Valley veteran at the center of J&J's hip replacement recall

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PHOENIX - Scott Almhjell is a Gulf War veteran.

While he returned from war without any physical injuries, Scott ended up suffering from ongoing pain.

It is a degenerative condition that nagged him for years.

Eventually, he needed a hip replacement.

“I have a 1-year-old and a 5-year-old and a 15-year-old and, you know, not being able to be as active as them has been hard,” he said.

After the surgery three years ago, Scott says he knew something wasn't right.

“It almost felt like it wasn't hinged or something,” Scott said. “I would have this, sort of, goofy walk.”

Last week, he learned that his hip implant is now under recall.

“I was kind of in shock,” he said.

The two devices now under recall are the ASR XL Acetabular System and the ASR Hip Resurfacing System.

According to DePuy Orthopedics, a division of Johnson and Johnson, 93,000 people worldwide had one of these two products impanted.

Valley naturopathic doctor David Tallman who specializes in alternatives to joint replacement surgeries, explains how it is supposed to work.

“When the grinding gets so severe, it makes it difficult for them to walk, to even stand for a few minutes,” Dr. Tallman said. “So, that's when they basically have to remove the bone and then put in the replacement here.”

But in this case, many implants don't fit properly, requiring one out of eight patients to need a second surgery to replace them.

It's a number attorney Brian Devine expects to climb.

This week, Devine's San Francisco-based law firm filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against DePuy Orthopedics on behalf of Scott Almhjell, and three others across the country.

“There's hundreds, if not thousands of patients out there who are suffering with this hip because their doctor doesn't know what's going on,” Devine said. “Because their doctor didn't know about the problem DePuy was having with their hip.”

But, even more troubling, Devine says, is how Johnson and Johnson expects patients to pay for the corrective hip surgeries which he estimates could run into the hundreds of millions.

Johnson and Johnson is advising patients to submit a claim to their insurance companies.

“And of course, many of these patients, the insurance company is the federal government, it's Medicare,” Devine said. “So, basically what DePuy is saying is that the federal government should go ahead and pay for their mistake.”

Before ever learning about the recall, Scott Ahmjell had his hip replaced.

It's a surgery that can run upwards of $30,000.

Scott's insurance picked up most of the tab, but he feels he should reimbursed for the three years of what he calls pain and suffering with a defective hip.

Johnson and Johnson tells 3 On Your Side it will reimburse insurance companies and Medicare for second surgeries, and that it is committed to assisting patients.

In a written statement, DePuy says: "Your safety and health is important to DePuy and we do not want cost to be a barrier to treatment. DePuy intends to cover reasonable and customary costs of testing and treatment if you need services, including revision surgery, associated with the recall of ASR. Bills for services should first be submitted to your insurance company or Medicare in the usual manner and DePuy will then reimburse you for your out of pocket expenses. Detailed information about the reimbursement process will be available shortly."

Keep in mind, not all patients who have the device.
Johnson and Johnson says currently about 13% will need additional surgery, but you should consult your doctor to find out if you're affected.

If you don't know which doctor performed your surgery, DePuy says it will find out and contact them for you.