Patients reveal agony of toxic hip implants
A medical scandal that has resulted in hundreds of patients being poisoned and seriously disabled may soon lead to changes in the way medical devices are approved for use in Australia.
The full story of the failed devices - described by an English researcher as "perhaps the biggest disaster in the history of orthopaedics" - is told for the first time on television on tonight's Four Corners program.
There are calls for an inquiry into the regulation of Australia's $4 billion medical devices industry following the recall of the faulty hip that left hundreds of Australians in unbearable pain.
The articular surface replacement (ASR) hip was made and marketed by DePuy Orthopaedics, a subsidiary of the Johnson & Johnson healthcare empire.
DePuy issued a worldwide recall of the hip in 2010 and voluntarily withdrew it from Australia in 2009, but not before 93,000 patients worldwide, 5,500 of them Australians, had been implanted with the faulty hip.
Patients from Queensland and South Australia tell Four Corners they have suffered terribly from the side-effects of the hips failing.
An increasing number of patients who had the hip implanted are having to undergo painful and complex revision surgery to remove the faulty hip.
Many, in addition, have experienced severe illness away from the hip, which some doctors and medical researchers attribute to metal poisoning from the joint.
Hundreds of Australians who had the faulty hip implanted are now joining class actions against DePuy Orthopaedics and Johnson & Johnson.
High levels of cobalt and chromium, two of the metals used in the manufacture of the joints, have been found in the blood of many patients whose DePuy ASR hips have failed.
Brisbane man Bob Lugton says the cobalt from his faulty hip had eaten away his thigh bone.
Mr Lugton says the surgeon who removed the faulty joint told him that "my flesh had turned a grey black around the hip area".
"The bone, he said, looked like a sewer pipe and was full of a sludgy grey material," he said.
Mr Lugton also complained of tinnitus and problems with his sight, which he now attributes to cobalt poisoning.
One Adelaide woman who had a cobalt reading 50 times the acceptable limit told Four Corners she had years of inexplicable serious illness before the faulty joint was taken out.
Despite growing concern in Australia and overseas, the Australian Orthopaedic Association (AOA) is reluctant to accept there may be a real problem of cobalt toxicity in patients with hips that have failed.
May 18, 2011