Wednesday, April 04, 2001

Painful case

She'd settle for getting better

        Last year at this time, Betty Grimme was on her hands and knees planting Easter lilies in her garden.

        But that was before her man-made hip socket was recalled.

        Now, she sits in a wheelchair and struggles to get around with a walker.

        At night, she sleeps on the rose-colored recliner in her Fort Thomas living room. The pain from two hip-replacement operations keeps her from sharing a bedroom with Paul Grimme, her husband of 56 years.

        Since the operations, Paul has also become his wife's caregiver. He scrubs floors and washes clothes — everything Betty used to do. He drives her to therapy sessions and doctors' appointments. He writes down the pills she takes and the progress she makes.

        Betty and Paul aren't complainers. He says at their age - both will be 76 this month — “Things are working out pretty good.”

        Betty says: “I'm getting better.”

        But this spring, she won't be on her hands and knees in her garden.

        And that's because someone was not as conscientious as the Grimmes.

        Paul and Betty take pride in what they do, and they make sure they do it right. Whoever made Betty's first replacement hip socket wasn't as careful.

        She had hip-replacement surgery Nov. 28. Ten days later, Sulzer Medica - the Swiss manufacturer of her new hip - issued a recall.

        Mineral oil from the manufacturing process was found on the artificial parts. The recall affected 17,500 hip sockets, including the one in Betty Grimme.

        Her doctor didn't learn about the recall until Dec. 21. By then, the hip socket was coming loose. The mineral oil had kept Betty's bone from properly bonding with the socket. Sulzer had been receiving reports about similar cases of loose hip sockets since October 1999.

        Betty was in “excruciating” pain.

        “It was,” she told me, “worse than childbirth.”

        She should know. She's a mother of 8.

        The defective hip socket was replaced Jan. 5. During the operation to remove the recalled socket, Betty suffered a fractured pelvis. And more pain.

        On Feb. 2, she came home, where the healing and the pain continued.

        For the next month, Paul slept by her recliner. He put three sofa cushions on the living room floor and covered himself with a blanket.

        “She needed me to take her to the bathroom three to four times a night,” he explained.

        When she called his name, he'd roll off the cushions and pull himself up by grabbing the stone surface of their fireplace. Paul has arthritis in both knees.

        The Grimmes have sued Sulzer, as have other recipients of the recalled hip sockets. They don't expect to get rich off their suit.

        Their attorneys, Rachael Rowe and Louis Gilligan of Keating, Muething & Klekamp, said if any damages are awarded, Uncle Sam gets paid first. Medicare covered a portion of Betty's $26,000-plus medical bills.

        “Whatever's left over,” said Rachael Rowe, “goes to the Grimmes.”

        Betty said she'll settle for “getting well.”

        “I sure don't want anyone else to go through this,” she added, wiping tears from her eyes.

        “I just want to get back to normal.”

       Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.


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