Not So Hip
Friday, September 14, 2012
Chuck Stapleton (not his real name) gets angry when the subject of his hip replacement comes up. At first, the 51 year-old Leduc County husband and father was thrilled with his new hip he received in 2007. The relief from the arthritic joint pain he suffered from was practically immediate. Although warned not to go “too crazy” and try and play contact sports or other risky behaviours that could lead to a jarring impact on his new prosthesis. Other than that minor stipulation, life could resume pretty much where it had left off, before his hip became too painful to endure.
There was one small glitch at the beginning, however. A clot appeared in his other leg which the doctors attributed to his sedentary activity during his convalescence. They claimed there was a problem with his blood’s “Factor 8”. This factor becomes elevated when the body senses it is under attack and increases the clot-ability of the blood as a precaution. This meant Chuck would have to be on blood thinners, likely for the rest of his life, to counteract the effects of the elevated factor.
Other than that one worrisome issue, Chuck was still pretty happy. He had received one of the new space-age hips. The metal-on-metal (MoM) ball and cup were a marked change from the nylon and ceramic models used successfully for years. These were the latest thing. Indeed, his doctor was impressed with Chuck’s range of motion at the one year checkup.
Then things started to go wrong. Chuck began to notice diminished vision in his eyes. It got so bad, he eventually was instructed not to drive by the eye specialist who was treating his vision condition. He lost his job where he had been working happily, doing what he loved best; talking to people.
Having been the major breadwinner for his family his entire adult life, Chuck, a fiercely independent man, had suddenly become a dependent on so many. It began to prey on his usually happy disposition. His doctor assured him depression was expected given such unpleasant developments in his health file. He’d be nuts if he wasn’t depressed by his situation, the doctor said kindly.
“My life began taking on an absurd quality,” Chuck admitted somberly. “I’d wake up every morning, so sure it was all a bad dream and life would be back to normal. Then when I put on my glasses and they don’t make things much clearer, I’m reminded that it’s really happening.”
Chuck began to notice other issues. His hearing was starting to go and, despite losing 65 pounds in a fitness binge, suddenly experienced being out of breath from just mild exertion.
“I chalked it up to age, to lifestyle, to my MP3 player,” he shrugged. “That’s how it is when you get older. Things start to go. I get that. I just assumed it was part of the process. I was just an early bloomer.”
Then Chuck’s hip began to make strange noises. It was a squeaking sound that only occurred occasionally when he was crouching or shifting his weight while twisting his hip.
“It was kind of embarrassing because it sounded like I was passing gas,” Chuck admitted. “but I thought I should advise my doctor so he could add it to my chart. Of course I couldn’t reproduce it in his office no matter how much I bent and twisted. Shortly after, however, when my hip became sore enough I had to use a cane for a week, he decided it was time for an x-ray.”
“I was greatly relieved when the x-ray appeared to show everything was where it should be. The doctor insisted that I go for blood and urine tests, though, ‘just to be sure’. When the tests came back, however, the results were anything but routine. According to the doctor, a person with a metal prosthesis could expect to have a chromium count of 10. Chuck’s was 1200. The doctor assured Chuck it may be a testing anomaly and the urine sample will tell the true tale.
It did. His count was 1229. Chuck’s hip was slowly, steadily poisoning his body.
Unfortunately, Chuck is not alone with this problem.
Across North America, numerous law suits have commenced as a result of problems associated with the new MoM hip replacements. These appliances had received practically no governmental health department scrutiny in either the US or Canada, because they were only considered to be a small adjustment to an already existing design.
In the US there are at least four class action suits going ahead with various hip manufacturers, including DePuy, Zimmer and Stryker. There are a minimum of three similar suits in Canada moving forward, as well. Some reports indicate some of the health problems associated with elevated chromium levels, such as soreness and other joint issues but the neurological issues are more complex. Heavy metals tend to remain in the body once they enter and the effects of them are serious and can even be lethal. They include visual impairment, deafness, mutated sperm, mood disorders, respiratory problems, liver, kidney and neurological damage, as well as an elevated incidence of cancer.
So what do you do if you’ve had a hip implant?
“Go see your doctor immediately, “advises Chuck. “If you have a metal-on-metal joint, get the chromium and cobalt testing and an x-ray. Make sure you notify your primary health care practitioner of any changes in your physical and mental well being. Insist they monitor your blood closely, especially if you do experience any unexpected health issues.”
“Most importantly, however,” continued Chuck, “we have to pressure our own government to force these hip companies to track customers in the event of a recall, as they’re doing in the US. Even if a company puts out a faulty product, there is nothing to compel them to let their customers know about it. Even car companies have to advise you of recalls. Why not these guys?”
“We also have to get the Canadian government's approval system to be more vigilant,” Chuck pressed on. “Allowing companies to install new products into human beings without insisting on human clinical trials is unconscionable. They’re supposed to be there to protect us. It’s not like the older models didn’t work. The only pressure to rush these products to market is the increased profit motive for the hip manufacturer. It’s what we would expect from business, though. It’s no shock they will seek to increase their return on their research and development investments. It’s the government’s job to protect us from their impatience, however. For their part, they failed miserably and now hundreds, maybe thousands of hip replacement patients will suffer for their laxness.”