the device life

medical technology expands to younger generations

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Continued: Boomers' embrace of devices gives rise to new med-tech age

“We’re seeing higher demand,” Berry said of younger patients who want a new hip. “And they are going to use it a lot harder than somebody who is older.”

Patients who get a device at a younger age usually must replace it more often. Each replacement means an expensive surgery, possible complications and significant rehabilitation.

“You have to find a happy medium,” Berry said. “Think about it like the tires on your car. There’s no point in getting new tires if you’re not driving … but if you speed up, they wear out faster.”

Medical device companies are working to create joints that are more durable and feel more like the original. Stryker, an international medical device company based in Michigan, had younger customers in mind when it developed hip and knee products that have more natural range in motion, said Joe Cooper, Stryker’s director of global communications.

“Designing implants that return this active and high-demand patient population to their lifestyles and everyday activities is a priority,” he said.

TGS Knee Innovations, a start-up device company in Plymouth, created a partial-knee replacement system that is designed to be a good option for younger patients facing a knee replacement, said Wesley Johnson, the company’s co-founder.

TGS has a relatively “small footprint” in the orthopedic field, but Johnson sees a future filled with youthful patients who want new knees to do more than they did before.

“For orthopedics, that tidal wave is a broader patient population with higher expectations,” he said.

They don’t last forever

Most artificial hips have a life span of 15 to 20 years, depending on how much patients weigh and how hard they push their bodies. Some companies developed a hip that used all-metal components in the belief it would improve durability. It didn’t necessarily turn out that way.

Many patients reported problems that have included loosening of the hip, dislocation and metal particles circulating in the bloodstream. They question whether the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which has oversight of medical devices, adequately scrutinized the devices before approval.

Terri Wagner-Morley of St. Paul had what is commonly referred to as a metal-on-metal hip — produced by DePuy Orthopedics Inc. — implanted in 2008. Within two years, the hip began “popping.” Soon, the pop turned to pain.

Wagner-Morley had the hip removed, but infection prevented doctors from putting in a new one. Plastic “spacers” were implanted instead, and she was bedridden. Last summer, she had a metal and ceramic hip implanted, but a stress fracture during rehabilitation has left the 55-year-old woman limping and angry. She remains disabled and without a job.

“I have had four surgeries now,” Wagner-Morley said. “As I get older, I’m probably going to be wheelchair bound. I might have a positive view, but really, I’m pissed off.”

In 2010, DePuy recalled the hip that had been implanted in Wagner-Morley.

That same year, hospitals, patients and med-tech companies reported 230,000 adverse events involving medical devices. About 30,000 of those incidents resulted in hospitalization, according to an analysis by DeviceMatters, a company which interprets data on medical devices.

“You’ve got to get this right — or people are going to suffer,” said Hauser, who discovered flaws in the wires of some defibrillators that led to a major recall.

Alva said he doesn’t worry about complications or the durability of his new hips. Being able to pace the sideline of his son’s games, ride a bike or refinish his floors overrides such concerns.

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