Reporter: Quentin McDermott; Broadcast: 16/05/2011
The Articular Surface Replacement hip or ASR created by DePuy and marketed by the Johnson and Johnson company was sold to doctors and patients as a giant step forward in joint replacement. Its creators boasted it would give greater mobility and help patients get back on their feet quicker. Now reporter Quentin McDermott investigates claims that the metals hips are disintegrating and making patients sick.
Australians spend over $7 billion a year on medical devices that are supposed to make their lives better. In most cases they do. Pacemakers, hip and knee replacements can transform a patient’s life. But who tests these devices to make sure they are safe? Now some doctors and policy makers say our regulation and testing regime is failing us and they are calling for greater scrutiny being directed to this essential industry.
His name is Ron. He was an active, happy 76-year-old. In 2005 he had a total hip replacement. A short time after the operation the metal hip he received began to malfunction. A large lump, the size a grapefruit, developed on the side of his leg. After consultation with his specialist and being told little could be done, Ron asked for a second opinion. What he found shocked him and his new doctor.
Analysing the fluid drained from the lump on his leg the doctor found pieces of metal that could only have come from the metal prosthesis inside him. Five operations later Ron has no hip at all and can barely walk.
Catherine was forty three when she accepted her doctor’s advice and agreed to have an ASR hip replacement. After the operation she began to feel ill. Desperate to find out what was making her feel sick, she asked her doctor to do pathology tests. What she found horrified her. The tests revealed she had “toxic” levels of cobalt in her system. The only possible source of the cobalt was the hip she’d been given.
Further investigation revealed the metal from the hip had damaged surrounding tissue in her upper leg and gave every indication her illness had been caused by massive levels of cobalt. Ron and Catherine are not the only people to find there are serious problems with the DePuy ASR hip replacements. It’s now estimated that the problems associated with this type of hip, which relies on metal to metal technology, could affect hundreds, even thousands of people across Australia.
The question is: how was this metal on metal technology approved? Who did the design and who tested it before it was used in human beings? As one patient with a faulty hip put it:
“…the patients are the guinea pigs yes, and then they use the result when they put them in a patient.”
The Four Corners program “Joint Reaction”, presented by Kerry O’Brien, goes to air on Monday 16th May at 8.30pm on ABC 1. It is replayed on Tuesday 17th May at 11.30 pm. It can also be seen on ABC News 24 each Saturday at 8.00 pm, on ABC iview or at Video on Demand.
Watch the ABC 4 Corners programme on their website [click here].
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