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Toxic hip implants under the microscope

David Jean From: The Advertiser May 17, 2011 11:00PM

Ron Barnes, 82, with his wife Yensie, ays the early discovery of lung cancer was one positive from his hip problems. Picture: Tricia Watkinson Source: The Advertiser

AN orthopaedic surgeon has said recipients of metal-on-metal hips may be suffering from blood poisoning.

Dozens of South Australians are among hip replacement patients who have had toxic metals leak into their bloodstream as a result of the degradation of DePuy Orthopaedics implants, The Advertiser revealed in February.

The implants were recalled globally last year and there have since been many cases reported in which patients recorded high levels of cobalt and chromium in their blood.

Orthopaedic surgeon Professor Ross Crawford said many more cases of blood poisoning may be undiscovered because generally only patients suffering side effects directly linked to their hip had sought medical help.

“The people that I speak to now that have had hip replacements that have come to revision, in retrospect they all had symptoms that I think are consistent with cobalt poisoning,” Dr Crawford told the ABC’s Four Corners program.

Up to 6500 Australians had the surgery before the recall.

About 14 per cent of those who received a conventional hip replacement have required revision surgery, along with 11 per cent who had hip resurfacing surgery.

Dr Crawford said that could be just the tip of the iceberg, with many devices possibly still causing blood poisoning.

“If the systematic complications of metal on metal ions are causing enough problems elsewhere we may have to make some very hard decisions,” he said. The Advertiser revealed last year that DePuy, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, was facing class actions in the UK and US over the implants.

Class actions have since been planned in Australia, with Adelaide law firms Duncan Basheer Hannon and Lempriere Abbott McLeod representing people.

Adelaide surgeon Dr Roger Oakeshott was on the team that designed the faulty implants.

He retired from Sportsmed SA, is now the team doctor for the Adelaide Thunderbirds.

UK-based bioengineer Dr Tom Joyce told Four Corners the DePuy hip scandal was “perhaps the biggest disaster in the world of orthopaedics”.

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