Woman allergic to metal knee implant

FOX Medical Team

Woman allergic to metal knee implant

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Patricia Harton was a perfectly healthy person leading a great life and then one day everything changed.

Every time Davis would come home, she could see her mother, Patricia Harton, growing weaker.

Harton first noticed the weakness playing the piano.

"My arms and my hands were beginning to get tired," she said.

She was only in her late 60s, but even the smallest things were becoming difficult.

"I got to where I couldn't even raise a glass to drink without both hands," she said.

In the spring of 2006, Patricia had a hip replacement that went well. A few months later, she underwent a knee replacement that did not go so well.

"I had pain from the very beginning with the knee, even the very first day," Harton said.

When Davis would visit, she could see her mom growing weaker.

"It just kind of escalated, a little bit faster probably than she realized," Davis said.

Christa quit her job, and moved home to Centre, Ala.  She began taking her mom to one specialist after another.

"We went to every doctor you can imagine to try to figure out what was going on with her," Davis said.

What, Christa wondered, could steal her mom's strength like this?

A biopsy showed that Patricia's muscles were deteriorating. One doctor thought she might have ALS; another wanted to put her on steroids.

"But there was something in me that said, ‘No, no, no, no.  Don't give up yet.  Don't start that medication route yet,'" Davis said.
 
Trying to pinpoint exactly when her mother's symptoms had begun, Christa found a timeline. In 2006, right after her knee surgery, is where she found that her hands became weak.

"I thought, ‘OK, that's the starting point.  We need to investigate -- was it a bacteria, was it something to do with a staph infection?" asked Davis.

Christa started pouring through medical journals online and found a British database that tracks orthopedic implants that fail.
 
Christa took her mom to see orthopedic surgeon Dr. Kenneth Sands in Rome, Ga., who it, turns out, had trained in England and knew about the database.
     
"Her story did not seem to be outrageous to me.  And her mother was in need," Sands said.

Dr. Sands biopsied Patricia's knee and found her muscles had never attached to her implant.

"I knew that it had to be the metal," Davis said.

But Sands needed proof, so he took blood samples to test Patricia for metal allergies.

"The most common allergic reaction is to nickel, which is what Mrs. Harton was showing," Sand said.

So it was back to the operating room.  One by one, Dr. Sands removed Patricia her nickel implants, and replaced them with titanium devices.

"As we proceeded and removed initially her total knee implant, and then her total hip implant, and then a wire in her pacemaker, she started to actually have improvement," Sands said.

"I started coming back, I started getting stronger," Harton said.
    
"She grabbed my hand, and she squeezed it, and I thought she was going to break it off. This is the same hand that could not pick up a glass to drink or a fork properly to eat," said Davis.

After watching what her mom went through, Christa wants more focus on what metals are used in the implants that we put in our bodies.

"It's not just the devices that are failing.  Based on the research, I believe with all my heart, it's the types of metal in the devices that are making the devices also fail," said Davis.

Davis has written book about her mom, called Steel Standing.  

Harton is back to her music and back to feeling like her old self again, grateful that her medical mystery she lived through has a happy ending.

Harton says she has about 95 percent of her old energy back.

Sands says what happened to Patricia is rare, but experts think as many as 10 to 15 percent of Americans are either sensitive or allergic to nickel,  which is used in some of these implants.

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