Phil Taylor

Phil Taylor is a Weekend Herald and New Zealand Herald senior staff writer.

Hip joint article sheds light on agony

Mark Grennell was furious when he discovered that his faulty artificial hip joint could be the reason for his four years of pain and other health problems. Photo / Christine Cornege
Mark Grennell was furious when he discovered that his faulty artificial hip joint could be the reason for his four years of pain and other health problems. Photo / Christine Cornege

A light bulb went on for Mark Grennell when he read a Herald article about the failure of an artificial hip joint.

Suddenly, the debilitating undiagnosed pain that had eaten away at his mobility, caused him to pile on 80kg and give up his job made sense.

Mr Grennell was unaware his was one of the joints subject to a world-wide recall.

Subsequent blood tests have revealed high readings for cobalt and chromium - materials the troubled ASR joint is made of.

This as well as his pain and suspected looseness of his hip joint indicate the prosthesis may have long been failing.

"I was incandescent with rage when I read that article," said Mr Grennell, 49. "Why hadn't I been contacted?"

The ASR hip joint is made by De Puy, a subsidiary of medical giant Johnson & Johnson. It has been implanted in 93,000 patients around the world, including 507 in New Zealand, and its failure has been described overseas as "one of the biggest disasters in orthopaedic history".

Mr Grennell showed his GP the Herald article last month. "He said, 'Oh my God', and wrote away for my hip operation records."

These confirmed Mr Grennell had the ASR total hip replacement.

Shortly after, he received a letter from his surgeon. It indicated he had the ASR, advised of steps to take and included a June statement from the Orthopaedic Association that said "all orthopaedic surgeons in New Zealand have been well informed of the ASR issue and have been asked to provide advice and information to those ... patients who are potentially affected".

Mr Grennell said the late advice wasn't good enough when De Puy stopped selling the ASR implants in New Zealand in December 2009.

Medsafe, the Government agency tasked with ensuring that medical devices used here are safe, says Johnson & Johnson told it of the recall in August 2010 and advised all surgeons about the same time. Medsafe did not check the ASR hip system or post its recall on its website.

Mr Grennell, who lives in Tirau in the Waikato, had had hip x-rays to detect the cause of his pain but they were inconclusive.

"I was told there was nothing wrong with me," he says. "I thought it was me, I thought I was a big wuss ... but I'm one of the 507."

At 1.85m, Mr Grennell was a fit 112kg when he had the total hip replacement operation four years ago to remove his arthritic hip the legacy of a childhood car accident.

A short period of improvement was followed by a long decline.

It is now a mission for him to hoist himself out of a chair. His weight has ballooned to 190kg and in April, he had to give up driving for a dress making firm, a job which involved lifting heavy rolls of fabric.

His wife works and he is housebound. "I want it replaced. My wife is stressed out. I can't walk down the road and rent a video. I sit here and read books all day. I'm like an old man."

Johnson & Johnson is paying out-of-pocket costs for patients who need the ASR replaced but because of ACC, New Zealanders can't sue for pain and suffering.

Mr Grennell, who does not have medical insurance, is waiting to hear from the company and ACC.

- NZ Herald

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