Artificial hips: thousands at risk


Sunelle van Heerden cups her right hand over the knuckles of her left hand. That’s how your hip socket and joint usually work, she explains, sitting in the Pretoria offices of law firm CP van Zyl Inc.

It’s also how the joint should work after a hip replacement, says Van Heerden, a medical legal consultant at the firm.

There should be no metal-on-metal friction which could release traces of chromium and cobalt into the bloodstream. Yet that’s what could be happening to nearly 3 000 South Africans – many of them unaware of the problem.

The cobalt-and-chrome ASR™ metal replacement hip caused a stir in orthopaedics when it became available in 2003.

The prosthesis – a socket and joint – is made of metal and the manufacturers claimed it would last longer than ceramic-and-metal prostheses which have to be replaced after several years.

“The manufacturers promised patients would be able to walk on the new prosthesis for up to 15 years. In the past a replacement hip would have lasted seven to 10 years,” Van Heerden says.

It hasn’t quite worked out that way. In fact argument against the new prosthesis will be heard in a British court in 2013, with about 200 South Africans joining a compensation claim on the grounds of pain and suffering.

Read more of Danél Blaauw’s article in YOU 3 January 2012.

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