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Hip replacement problems lead to $2 million award

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An Albuquerque judge has awarded $2 million to a man who received a metal hip replacement, only to have the parts grind together, sending toxic metal into his leg muscle.

Second Judicial District Chief Judge Nan Nash said the company, Zimmer Inc., created a faulty device and should pay for past expenses, lost wages and future medical expenses necessary to remove the dead flesh. That includes managing the infections caused by the metal poisoning in patient Brian McDonald, an Albuquerque economist who underwent hip replacement surgery in 2010.

Personal injury attorneys in Albuquerque and around the nation say this is one of the first successful lawsuits against the device manufacturer and they expect more to come.

“A hip implant shouldn’t cause metal poisoning and make a patient worse rather than better,” Randi McGinn, one of the attorneys representing McDonald in his civil lawsuit against the company, said in a news release.

McDonald said Thursday, about a week after Nash’s ruling, that he wasn’t surprised the case went in his favor but that the award was a “pleasant” end to an ugly ordeal.

McDonald, a retired University of New Mexico economist, was 62 when he couldn’t stand the pain in his hip and the way it was limiting his active life, cutting short his tennis and golf days.

So he investigated his options, making sure with his surgeon that previous reports of problems with hip replacements had been resolved.

“Back in 2010 when I had the first surgery, there already were some lawsuits about what they called metalosis, which is when the hip implant gives off metal debris and gets in the muscle’s tissue and, in my case, basically killed it,” McDonald said.

At the time, his surgeon said the mechanism he would be getting had been modified to fix that metal-on-metal problem.

“The problem is this particular device had other issues that caused metal debris and metalosis,” McDonald said.

The metal debris came from the femoral stem and the ball, not the hip socket and ball.

And McDonald’s leg muscle started to die.

He had an emergency surgery to replace the metal pieces.

But he got an infection from that surgery, requiring a third operation to take out the muscle killed by the infection. He was on intravenous antibiotics twice a day for weeks. And the threat of that infection re-emerging remains for the rest of his life, a fact that Nash took into consideration when awarding McDonald the $2 million.

McDonald said he is able to walk now but not able to play as many sports.

Zimmer Inc. did not return calls for comment. It is unclear whether the company will appeal the ruling.