On this episode of the Drugwatch Podcast, our guest is former news anchor Frances Scott. When Scott got the news that she needed a double hip replacement at 38 because of a hip deformity, the active mother of three didn’t take it lightly.
“I was focused on, ‘Do I really need it or not? Will it help me? And which surgeon do I think cares the most about me in particular and will be vested in my success in this surgery?’” Scott told Drugwatch.
She got second opinions from several specialists and researched all the information available. A year later, she decided to go through with the operation and received two Pinnacle metal hips.
But the quick recovery she was expecting didn’t happen.
“I had known a lot of people — their grandmother got her hips replaced and then she was back on the golf course within six weeks. That was definitely not what I was experiencing,” she said.
Scott faced a host of complications because of the metal building up in her blood. Along with severe pain and mental fog, she suffered from lesions that would develop on her face and skin. They would crack open and bleed. Then she had mood swings that would leave her in tears for no reason.
“I saw absolute fraud in the research, deception. [The manufacturers] knew from the beginning these things were bad,” she said.
Eventually, she had to quit the job she loved as a news anchor because of the complications. She and her family moved to Texas. For years she couldn’t get a straight answer from doctors, and many were reluctant to take on patients with metal-on-metal hips.
When she heard about a bellwether trial for a hip implant lawsuit, Scott thought she had nothing to lose by attending the trial to get some answers.
“I thought, well, I’ve covered trial before. I’m going to go figure out what the truth is, because the evidence won’t lie,” Scott recalled.
What she found out surprised her. If she hadn’t seen the evidence at trial, she said she would never have known the truth about what she and many others were going through with their implants.
“So I sat in those trials and I saw the worst story I had ever covered in 20 years of news. And I looked around and there’s no reporter beside me. No one’s covering it for any of the news stations or the national networks or anything. And I saw absolute fraud in the research, deception. [The manufacturers] knew from the beginning these things were bad.
Hi there and welcome to another episode of the Drugwatch Podcast. I'm your host, Michelle Llamas. On today's episode we'll be talking about medical devices, specifically metal hip implants. For years, surgeons have been implanting these devices in people to help improve their mobility and decrease pain, but sometimes these devices meant to help actually cause worse problems.
Joining me today from Texas is Frances Scott, a mother of three and former television anchor. When she began suffering pain because of a suspected hip abnormality, doctors implanted her with two metal DePuy Pinnacle hip implants. That was when her whole life was turned upside down. Now she is on a mission to spread awareness and prevent others from suffering what she went through.
So, hi Frances, welcome to the podcast and thank you for being a guest.
Hi, thank you so much for having me.
So, let's talk about your life before Pinnacle hips. How was your career and personal life at the time?
Well looking back, sometimes you never know when you're at the pinnacle, so to speak. But I was doing well, at 20 years in media. I worked for Disney, an ABC-owned, Disney-owned television station in Raleigh. Loved it, loved my coworkers. I had taken a few years off to have babies and I had just made it back. I was so happy to be working with my old friends again, living in North Carolina again. That was kind of my home state.
And life was really good — except for some kind of nagging pain that had been kind of missed or blown off for about 10 years. It had steadily gotten worse. So other than that, life was great. I had finally made it kind of where I wanted to be career-wise and was just happy to have three healthy kids and a great husband. And just focus on... They were getting to the age where we were going to start doing the things that my husband and I had done before we got married and kind of early in our marriage, you know, skiing and hiking and being really active and that sort of thing.
So, the kids were eight, eight and six when I got my hips replaced. So, that was kind of right at the age where we felt like, all right, now's the time you run off with your kids and do all the things you've always dreamed of doing.
So, what eventually led you to get the hip replacement surgery and how old were you when you got the implants?
Well, I was 39 when I got them, but I want to make it clear — I didn't just do what the first doctor said. Sometimes people will say, "Oh, okay, whatever you say," and they just do it. When I was 38, that's when the doctor first said, "You have labral tears and your hips are kind of a mess. And we think the only way to get you out of pain is to do a hip replacement."
When someone tells you that at 38, you don't just accept it and sign up for surgery. So, I spent the next year investigating, reading everything I could. My stepfather had been a surgeon, so I grew up around medical journals just in the bathroom, at our coffee table. And so, I liked medicine. I liked health. And so, I just scoured the research and I went to 11 different doctors, 12 different doctors to get their impressions of what they thought too. Because it was radical to think at 38, I had this deformity I never knew about, and it had torn up my hips slowly and nobody caught it in 10 years of me seeing doctors — it was just crazy.
So, I spent the next year going to 12 different surgeons. I flew myself to Boston, the Harvard hip clinic to see Michael Millis. And I had surgeons all over the country looking at my MRIs, my arthrograms, my X-rays. And 11 out of 12 said, "Yeah, you need to have your hips replaced." I did have one scope labral repair surgery on one hip, because finally the consensus was, try the labral repair and if it doesn't work, then just have both hips replaced.
So, that was the plan. We went forward and I ended up getting my hips replaced in September of 2011.
You did all your research, you sought all these opinions. And so for you it definitely was not a light choice. And when you finally did make your choice, you thought, hey, you know what, I've looked at all this stuff. This is a good choice based on the research that I've found and the information that was available. Right?
Yes. And I... I mean, I was focused on, do I really need it or not? Will it help me? And which surgeon do I think cares the most about me in particular and will be vested in my success in this surgery?
I think the plan was you were supposed to recover in a few months and then come to find out that isn't what happened.
I was a little confused, people would come to visit me or want to, "Hey I'll bring you home from PT," and I would tell them the wrong hospital, like in a town where I had lived a decade. So, I knew I was confused. But I was hurting a lot, not sleeping really well and I was coming off the medications. And anesthesia does a number on your brain too, I'm sure. So, I just kind of blew it off as that.
Frances Scott: But I remember the first time I knew something was wrong, was I went to PT
But I remember the first time I knew something was wrong, was I went to PT and she said, "How was your weekend?" And I said, "It was really hard. I had to take the stronger opioid medicines and that kind of bummed me because I wanted to take as few of them as I could." And she said, "Oh, you shouldn't be needing them still." And I thought, well, I'm not taking them for fun. I didn't like the way they made me feel. So, I had had a lot of pain.
And I had known a lot of people — their grandmother got her hips replaced and then she was back on the golf course within six weeks. Like that was definitely not what I was experiencing. And it kind of scared me a little bit.
In the meantime, my face had broken out, my upper body with these scabs, these kind of lesions. These little blemishes that would just crack open and bleed. And then I started noticing the ringing in my ears was really bad. I couldn't sleep. I was getting really sad. But I thought that was just because I had lost my ability to run. I'd always been active. But I would just sob and weep and get really anxious. And I just across the board wasn't doing well and I was hurting a lot.
So, I just attributed it all to, well, I'm in pain, this is a big bad surgery. But I'd had surgery before and I had never ended up like this.
The thing here is that I think a lot of people expect after a hip implant surgery, if you had any complications, it would be, oh, my hip is hurting. Right? But you had like this host of crazy other systemic side effects that you started suffering.
Right. In addition to the pain. And I would go back to my surgeon to X-ray me and he'd say, "Oh, hip looks great. Maybe your body's learned that pain is normal, so we're going to put you on this antidepressant." And I'd say, "Well, I'm not depressed. I just want to be able to stand and unload my kids' backpacks and take them lunch and things like that."
Probably in the beginning, like a lot of Americans, based on your research you thought, hey, hip implants are safe. They've been tested.
I was told it was the most successful procedure in the history of modern medicine.
So, now of course we find out many, many years later, there's been all these lawsuits, internal memos have surfaced from some of these device manufacturers that they've known for years that there have been problems, but they didn't warn the public.
So, now in your own personal journey, tell us some of the things that you've found out about your hip implant and how medical devices make it to the market in general.
Well, before surgery, I'd read some articles about J&J, DePuy's ASR hip had been recalled before I got my Pinnacle. And I'd been reading about cobalt ions are elevated in the blood of people who have the ASR hip. And I talked to my doctor at length about it and he said, "Frances, yes, your ions are going to be elevated. Let's say more than your husband who doesn't have a metal implant. But what we know from the research is the ions just don't mean anything. Like how could anything that's measured in parts per billion really affect you? So, time has told us that it just... It doesn't mean anything." And so in the end, I deferred to him and I said, "Well give me what you would give your wife." And I forgot to ask if he actually liked his wife. But I deferred, even though I had stayed up so many nights for a year reading all these medical journals. In the end, I hadn't been to hip school, so I deferred to him, this person that I trusted.
So, I think the first thing that happened is I found an FDA notice that had been sent out that anybody with any type of metal-on-metal hip should be having their cobalt and chromium ions tested in their blood to see how high they were. And I was kind of mad because my doctor hadn't been testing me. So, I called and I requested the testing. And one of the assistants said, "Well, he doesn't really think you need that." But I demanded it. And when the levels came back, first of all, they didn't even call me to tell me that they were elevated.
So, I looked up the number and there wasn't much guidance on if you have elevations from the metal implant. If I had, let's say, been exposed to cobalt or chromium in my workplace, OSHA had documents out there that said, if the patient's blood level is this, then we would need to come shut down the workplace. And so, I presented that to my doctor's office and the message I got back was, "Well it just doesn't matter. You're not close enough to the high." The first level I got was 2.0 parts per billion. At the time, anything over one part per billion was considered high.
And my lab work came back with an H on it. Now those levels have since been raised, mind you, which is another thing that really bothers me because the people doing the raising of what's considered normal have blatant ties to industry, these companies that make these things. So, that's disturbing.
But in 2012, two parts per billion was considered high. Yes, and it had been close to a year of me going back, and going back, and going back and I changed physical therapists. I was seeing the head of this physical therapy department and there was really no answer from a diagnostic point of view of what was going on.
So, I had to go to a different surgeon and say, "I have these metal on metal hips and I would like to be checked for these pseudo tumors." So, he agreed. A different surgeon this time. And we checked, they weren't there at first. But over the next couple of years, as I asked for MRIs again, they showed I was growing these little pockets of tissue destruction, where your body tries to encapsulate the metal debris in your body. Problem is, it does a good job pulling it out of your blood, but it comes at the expense of your soft tissue, which is slowly being destroyed.
I really felt alone for the next seven years as I tried to figure out what's going on. And I told my husband, "Look, some of the first civil trials are happening. They're called bellwether cases. They're test cases. They're happening in Dallas. I mean, we moved to Texas. We thought maybe I had a severe vitamin D deficiency or something. I was desperate. So, we moved to where I could get more sunshine. We noticed I did a little better in the summer and I found out that some of the trials were happening just down the road from me, four hours away. So I got in my car, and I drove to the trial because I knew the company could be lying. I knew the surgeons could be lying. I knew the people who had sued could be lying.
So I thought, well, I've covered trial before. I'm going to go figure out what the truth is because the evidence won't lie. So I sat in those trials and I saw the worst story I had ever covered in 20 years of news. And I looked around and there's no reporter beside me. No one's covering it for any of the news stations or the national networks or anything. And I saw absolute fraud in the research, deception. They knew from the beginning these things were bad. Their own guy told them years before they ever brought metal-on-metal back to market, "Look, why are we even talking about this? We have better bearing surfaces, what's the end game here?"
And I was so blown away and devastated because it meant that I was going to have to go through it all again and get another double hip replacement to get these things taken out. The problem was, at that point, you couldn't find anyone to take them out, because now you have a product that's considered problematic. And a lot of doctors, I would call and make an appointment to talk about revision of a metal on metal hip, and the receptionist would call me back a couple days later and cancel my appointment. And I would say, "Why?" And she said, "Oh, he's not taking new metal-on-metal patients." And I said, "Well, what am I supposed to do? I have this thing in me."
And by then echocardiogram had showed thickening or scarring of my heart's walls. I was livid. But what do you do? You're on your own. And the doctors would look at me like I'm crazy and I know the things need to come out. So, I would try to come home from a day in court and convey what I had learned in court. Of course, you can't bring your camera or your recording devices, so just from my notes. So little by little I would try to interview some of the people that I had seen on the stand or met at the trial and try to convey that information. Because I thought people worldwide are having the same problems I am, they're being told everything's fine, and they're not.
If it wasn't for the fact that you went and you sat in on that trial and this person filed this lawsuit and other people did, no one would even know this was happening.
That's pretty much what's going down here. Like people have to file lawsuits and what goes out in those trials and all the documents that come out have to be made public to people.
That's when I learned... That's when I learned the power. If you're raised by a surgeon as I was, you don't have good feelings towards legal anything.
I grew up, doctors fear legal action. So I didn't think highly of lawyers, frankly.
And then after I went to the trial, I wept and I said, "Thank God for this legal action." Because when I was trying to decide whether I needed the hips and what kind of hip to get and who to get it, I was doing due diligence. The problem was the stuff I really needed to see was confidential at that point, in 2010. It didn't come out until four, five, six, seven years later when lots of people had been hurt and finally someone sued, and finally there's discovery, and finally it all gets dragged into court. And even then, I wouldn't have known about it if I hadn't been sitting in that seat because it happened to be happening four hours from my home. And that's when I was like, oh, now I understand why the legal action is so critical because it's the only way to expose the truth.
Because I never could have had access to these internal J&J, DePuy emails saying, "We need to market through this storm," and learning what a key opinion influencer is and how they hired doctors, put them on payroll as consultants to defend the product as they knew it was tanking. I mean, I wouldn't have ever known some of these surgeon whistleblowers that I could then reach out to later and say, "What did you know and what did you do, and what did the company do in exchange when you said this thing is bad?" And the surgeon would tell me, "Well, they just told us it was... Maybe it was just us. Maybe we just had bad practices. Maybe we did implant the thing wrong."
Oh, that's your favorite thing to say by the way that it's a doctor's fault. Their favorite.
Right. Or blame the victim, put her on antidepressants and then just say it's mental illness because now she has antidepressants in her history. When she was telling her doctor, "I'm not depressed, I just want to walk."
And I went to the shareholders meeting. As part of my trying to figure this out, I actually attended a shareholders meeting. Because I thought — naively, I thought maybe they just don't know. If I could just get in there and say, "This is really happening. It's happening to me. It happened to my friend Julie, who has since passed away from the cobalt poisoning and what it did to her heart because it causes cardiomyopathy." It's been known for decades in the published medical literature that cobalt poisoning causes heart failure. So, I thought maybe they just don't know because surely if they knew they wouldn't still be selling the thing.
And there were shareholders that stood up before me at the Q&A portion of the Johnson & Johnson shareholders meeting, and they were screaming at the CEO, "Hey, when are you going to get some decent legal counsel so we can stop losing these frivolous lawsuits?" And then the shareholders beside me were talking about the processors across the street and how they just need to get jobs. And I knew the processors across the street, they had all had jobs. But they had been destroyed when the melting mesh kept them going to the hospital all the time with bladder infections and kidney infections, and the hip issue destroyed their ability to walk. Like you can't miss a ton of work and keep a great career.
We didn't mention that here, but that's what happened to you, right, because of all the issues?
I just knew I wasn't right. I was confused. I would go to work on the wrong day. I would have these terrible headaches. I ended up in the ER. Afterwards, I would throw up for hours and then I would pass out and miss a promo shoot. I missed a promo shoot one time. Like I was a total mess. And prior to that, I did not have that kind of work history. But I knew I wasn't right.
So, I ended up having to leave my job. All the confusion and all of the behavioral changes I had were not me. And even my husband said, years later when it all stopped because I got the hips replaced, my husband said... I said, "Why did you stay with me when I was crazy?" And he said, "It wasn't you."
A lot of people end up losing their marriages.
And that's the main reason I fight today because I am so thankful. I've met so many people that have lost everything.
So, it wasn't until the movie, the Bleeding Edge came out. I had shared with one person outside my family how I felt like the hips had affected my personality and behavior. And this woman actually did an advanced screening of the Bleeding Edge, and she called me. She said, "I just left the movie mid-movie to call and tell you it's not just you. That a doctor in the movie had described the same thing had happened to him. He got, I believe it was the ASR. And tore up a hotel room, had the same kind of crazy outburst that was not characteristic with any other behavior he had ever shown before."
And that was the first time I had any understanding or validation that maybe... I kept going to a doctor at that point saying, "Have I become bipolar? Do I have a mental disorder? Do I have some sort of mental illness?" And he was a neurologist, he kept saying, "No, I think you're just going through a hard time."
But now that I have the hips gone and I'm back to myself again after seven and a half horrible years, not just with the pain, but with something going on in my brain. Now that I'm clear again, it's so obvious what it was. I've connected now with a lot of other people that have these things. Poor people, some of them have them still stuck in their body. Can't find anyone to take them out. And they're massively depressed. They know. And I'm like, "It's just the cobalt. This is what the cobalt..." Or chromium, I don't know which. But I'm different now and all I have now is ceramic, titanium alloy and poly, and I'm not the same mentally, emotionally and behaviorally as I was all those years I had the cobalt, chromium hips.
You were finally able to take the hips out and that cleared up a lot of the issues you were having. So, for anybody listening that is still struggling with a lot of these things, you can see that Frances at least was able to prove that once you take those things out, you can actually improve.
It gave me absolute confidence that what I thought was happening all those years is what was happening. I got the things taken out and within weeks, the heart palpitations stopped. Kidney pain that hurt, that woke me every single day at 5:00 AM and stayed with me until I went to the restroom and emptied my bladder — that went away the next day.
The clarity, I don't forget when I meet people now. I don't get confused. I'm not living in fear that I'm going to forget to pick up my kids. Like I'm back.
So, now, what would you tell people that are considering getting a hip implant or other implants actually?
Well, I asked one of the whistleblower surgeons that years ago, because I thought, well what is safe? Now that I know there's no way to find out something because most medical devices aren't tested in real live humans before they’re sold, thanks to the 510(k) loophole. This surgeon I interviewed was paid for years by DePuy to report back to DePuy how well or poorly their devices were doing in real humans, because they don't require pre-market testing of the devices in humans, human clinical trials, not tests on robots and jars of water, I’m talking real people.
So, now after they start selling something, they start testing it after it's already in real live people who have paid for it and who don't know that they're some of the first humans to get it. He said, "Go with the oldest. You want something that's been on the market more than 15 years, if possible. You don't want the latest and greatest. You want the old tried and true because since we don't do clinical trials before we sell something, the market is the clinical trial on a human."
So many of us are being affected by these untested products that are hurting us that, in time, there are going to be so many of us all saying the same thing that the public will get mad. I mean, it's going to take years sadly, but it's going to happen. Word is getting out with movies like the Bleeding Edge and podcasts like yours. I'm never going to shut up.
If any of this has happened to you, sharing your story and talking about it really does help. Thank you so much again for being on the show. Totally grateful for having you and I'm sure that all this information that you shared is going to help a lot of people.
I hope. Thank you so much.
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