For the past ten years it’s been common for patients undergoing orthopaedic surgeries like shoulder or knee surgery to receive a pain pump for post-operative pain. Surgeries such as those to repair torn labrums and rotator cuffs in the shoulder or even routine knee procedures are now performed in out-patient surgery centers. In these settings, patients are implanted with ambulatory pain pumps made by companies like Stryker, BREG, I-Flow, and Sorenson, sometimes without even knowing about it ahead of time. The physicians have been led to believe by the sales representatives for these companies that pain pumps are a safe way to control the pain patients experience after surgery. Unfortunately, these pain pumps are not safe and have injured thousands of patients across the country.The pattern in each case is the same. A patient awakens from surgery to find a slender plastic tube known as a catheter threaded into the surgical site in their shoulder. The tube is taped to the skin and is connected to a small infusion pump that is filled with a local anesthetic like marcaine. The pump is small and lightweight and is carried in a fanny-pack or belt clip. The patient is told to go home and recover while the pump infuses a steady rate of anesthetic drug into the shoulder where the surgery occurred. If the pain ever worsens, the patient can push a button to deliver an extra “bolus” dose of medication. After a few days, the pump is empty and the catheter it pulled out of the shoulder by a nurse at the doctor’s office or physical therapy session. By that time the damage is done.Doctors and scientists now know that directly infusing local anesthetic like marcaine into the shoulder for 48 hours or more kills the cells that make up human cartilage. The cartilage in the shoulder joint covers the head of the humerus, or arm bone, as well as the glenoid, or cup that receives the arm bone to form the joint. It is the cartilage on either side of this joint that allows the joint to move smoothly in a full range of motion. Once the cells or chondrocytes that make up this cartilage are killed, the cartilage begins to wear and flake off in pieces. The patient usually notices this change in a few weeks after surgery when the joint begins to click and pop with movement. The patient’s range of motion gradually decreases and pain starts to return that is far worse than that which existed before surgery. This condition is called chondrolysis, and it is the signature injury associated with pain pumps.
Human cartilage does not regenerate, so every patient who is afflicted with chondrolysis has a permanent injury. The condition does not improve and rarely stays the same. The usual course of progression for the condition is an ever-worsening loss of cartilage accompanied by excruciating pain and loss of motion. Patients cannot get pain relief, even with strong narcotic pain medication. Most return to their doctor complaining of pain so bad that they cannot sleep. Inevitably the x-rays taken at the doctor’s office show a severe loss of cartilage in the shoulder joint. The only option is a shoulder replacement, which is a painful an expensive surgery. Sadly, if the patient is under 50 years of age, the replacement will not last his or her lifetime. Young patients can expect multiple repeated surgeries on the joint over the course of their lifetime.
The manufacturers of the pain pumps knew that their product should not be used in or near the cartilage in joints. Despite this knowledge they actively marketed these pain pumps to doctors and told the doctors that the pumps were safe. Now, the patients are fighting back. Numerous patients in the northern Kentucky and Cincinnati have hired the law firm of Schachter Hendy & Johnson to help them fight for unpaid medical bills, lost wages and future medical expenses. If you or a loved one have suffered joint injury like chondrolysis of a pain pump, contact us to speak with an attorney who can advise you of your rights.