Dr. Steve Tower specializes in hip, knee and shoulder surgery as well as general orthopedics and trauma care. In 2006, Tower had hip replacement surgery and received a metal-on-metal hip implant design made of chrome cobalt. A year after the hip was replaced, he began experiencing pain.
Having replaced “about a thousand” hips in patients himself, Tower knew this was not the norm. Remembering that the hip was made of cobalt, he decided to have his blood levels checked. He found the cobalt levels in his blood to be extremely high. Three years after replacement, the hip became so painful that revision surgery was necessary. During surgery, doctors found severe tissue damage surrounding the hip joint.
“Within a short period of time, the neurologic issues I had experienced went away,” Tower recalls. “I had placed the same hip in one of my patients, who experienced similar problems,” Tower said, and after the patient underwent revision surgery, the problems went away.
He began a case report of the patients experiencing these issues after receiving a metal-on-metal hip. To his surprise, even the patients that had cobalt-on-plastic hips began experiencing problems that indicated cobalt poisoning from the cobalt corroding within their bodies.
In the cases of elevated cobalt in the blood, the patients experienced “significant blindness, significant deafness” and numbness of the hands and feet. “Some of them were so weak and insensate that they were wheelchair bound,” Tower said.
The metal-on-metal hip implant manufacturers such as Wright Medical, DePuy Orthopaedics (a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson), Stryker, Smith & Nephew and Zimmer Biomet Holdings have been facing a high number of lawsuits alleging injuries linked to the device, as Dr. Tower has experienced.