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Margaret Wente was so sure. She was sure that she was going to love her artificial hips, sure that they were going to give her the life she wanted back. She was in a unique position: Not just a recipient, but one who worked for the Globe and Mail newspaper in Toronto.

Wente wrote about her new hips and gave advice to readers on them.

A couple weeks ago, she wrote a piece for the paper. It was called “The nightmare of Margaret Wente’s miracle hips.”

After writing about her new metal-on-metal hips shortly after receiving them, Wente heard from orthopedic surgeons.

One or two were surprisingly vitriolic. They didn't trust the new devices. They warned me that bad things would happen to my hips. That was when I learned that medical opinion, to put it mildly, was sharply divided.

Today, the miracle has turned into a nightmare.

Wente’s nightmare is not as bad as many recipients of defective metal hips. Her hips have been OK. The problems people many people have had with their artificial – the bone not adhering to the artifice correctly, metal shavings from the hip entering the bloodstream – haven’t surfaced for Wente, she wrote. But she’s heard so many horror stories from people (many of whom she recommended the procedure to) that she’s aghast.

She writes:

But I have learned a lot. I am much more skeptical of the wondrous new offerings from Big Pharma. I’m sorry I wrote that piece in the paper, and I worry about the people I encouraged. I hope they’re all okay. From now on, I will offer only two pieces of advice to people whose hips are shot. Pick a good surgeon. And caveat emptor.

Of course, Wente has a pretty big bullhorn as a writer for Canada’s largest newspaper. And DuPuy, the Johnson and Johnson subsidiary that makes many of the hips with many of the problems, has been helpful to her.

The people at DePuy are being very nice. They will pick up all my hip-related medical bills, including blood tests for metal levels, travel costs to Montreal for follow-ups, and costs connected to revision surgery, if I ever need it. They are hoping very much that I don’t sue them.

Gloria McSherry (another hip replacement recipient) is not so lucky. “My life will never be the same,” she says. “I never dreamed that I could ever have anything like that happen to me.”

A New England Journal of Medicine study has found that metal-on-metal artificial hips – like the DePuy ASR – failed 3 times the rate of other hip implants. Internal company emails show that Johnson & Johnson's DePuy division knew of the problems with the ASR artificial hip at least by 2009. In an August 2009 email, a DePuy vice-president wrote that the FDA refused to approve the ASR because of a "significant" number of premature failures. Despite the known problems, Johnson & Johnson hid reports of the ASR excessive failure rate and DePuy paid more than $80 million to doctors across the country to promote, research, and consult on DePuy's defective hips. Johnson & Johnson ultimately recalled the ASR in 2010 – a year in which Johnson & Johnson had 11 product recalls in just 11 months.

Last week a jury in the first DePuy ASR hip implant case to go to trial awarded the victim more than $8 million after finding the metal-on-metal hip implant to be defective. The second of nearly 11,000 lawsuits filed has already begun trial.

Wente is fortunate she has not yet had to face a revision surgery for her DePuy hips. Thousands of others have not been so lucky.

[More on Defective Hips]

© Copyright 2013 Brett A. Emison

Follow @BrettEmison on Twitter.

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