My guest on this episode is Don Dupuis. After getting a hip implant at age 50, he thought it would lessen the pain of the osteoarthritis that was building in his hip. His doctor in Sussex, New Brunswick, recommended that he get the surgery as soon as possible. The surgeon chose a Wright CONSERVE metal-on-metal resurfacing system.
After three months, Don went back to work and continued on with his daily activities. Most implants are supposed to last 15 to 20 years, so it should have been a while before Don would have to start thinking about a revision.
This once-active, long-distance truck driver and avid Harley enthusiast didn’t expect that one surgery would still haunt him several years later and leave him disabled, unable to go back to work and barely able to do daily activities. On this episode, Don shares his experience and advocates for hip patients to be aware of their implants.
After the initial resurfacing Don said everything seemed fine. He had minor issues with range of motion, but nothing else to speak of.
One day, four years later, he and his wife decided to take his motorcycle out for a ride with friends. They pulled over on the side of the road for a break, and suddenly Don was unable to keep the bike up and it fell over. After getting the motorcycle back up, he realized there was something wrong.
“[My leg] felt spongy in the heel. I couldn’t move it. So the wife had to put the kickstand on, and I sort of hobbled around the bike, holding onto the bike. I went, ‘I think there’s something wrong with my leg,’ and couldn’t figure out what it was. I tried to walk, and no way! Down I went.”
After Don made it to the hospital by ambulance, they told him his femur had broken – along with the pin in his implant. It was a long day that included emergency revision surgery. This time, he was given a complete hip replacement. Doctors left the metal cup from the Wright CONSERVE in and added a DePuy ball and stem.
Again, Don went back to trying to continue with his life, but a mere 3 years after his first revision surgery, he suffered from complications once again.
In 2012, Don suffered from weakness in his leg and pain so terrible he needed a strong dose of morphine to keep it under check.
Don recalls a conversation with his doctor: “When I started taking [morphine], I had to call my doctor and say, ‘Well, we’re going to have to change [the dose] from 12 to 8 hours.’ He goes, ‘Why’s that?’ ‘Because,’ I said, ‘after 8 hours, I’m in tears.'”
Not only was Don unable to work or even get around, but the muscles in his legs were deteriorating. Doctors kept telling him that his hip was fine.
This time, Don decided to do his own research into his hip implant. Through Drugwatch.com, he was able to find enough information to start his research. This was where he found out about metal-on-metal implants and metallosis – a condition where metal particles flake off an implant and into the blood and tissue. He read information on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Health Canada websites warning about metal-on-metal implants.
He learned from Drugwatch that he could request his medical records. So he did that, noted the brand of his implant and learned that it was a metal-on-metal device. Through persistence with his doctor, he was able to get a cobalt and chromium blood test. What he found was astonishing, and the doctor repeated the test twice to verify the results.
A normal chromium or cobalt level may vary depending on the unit of measurement, but in Don’s case, the reference for normal was 1.90 – 5.80 nmol/L for chromium and 0.51 – 6.80 nmol/L for cobalt. Don’s measurements were 531.13 nmol/L and 298.33 nmol/L, respectively – measurements far above normal.
Abnormally high levels of cobalt and chromium can cause a number of issues, such as:
Don found out about the results of the blood test soon after having a second hip revision, and he decided to take it a step further. This time, he searched the Internet for hip lawsuits.
There are thousands of lawsuits filed against the makers of defective hip implants in the United States, including Wright Medical. Companies like Stryker, Biomet and Johnson & Johnson face lawsuits in both federal and state courts.
Don decided to contact a local product liability attorney in Canada, who immediately took on his case against Wright.
In closing, Don says that people need to be aware of their hip implants, and if they are having problems they should get a blood test. “Knowledge is everything,” he said. “Look if you’ve got anyone that’s a family member, or something like that, that’s had a metal-to-metal implant in say the last 12 years, tell them to get checked.”
Michelle Y. Llamas is a senior content writer and researcher for Drugwatch. She is also the host of the Drugwatch Podcast where she talks to patients, experts and advocates about drugs, medical devices and health. She uses her technical writing experience to provide easy-to-understand information on how drugs and devices work. But she also tells people what happens when products that are supposed to improve their lives can hurt them.
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