Lifewatch: Pain Pumps

CHARLOTTE -- Some patients who had surgery to repair dislocated shoulders say a product used to control their pain after surgery actually ended up causing a lot more.

This story started with one doctor who made the startling realization that several of his patients with serious shoulder problems had one thing in common.

Now, 500 Americans are involved in a class action lawsuit.

28-year-old Erika Creech has gotten used to lifting her daughter with one arm

In 2004, Erika learned she had no cartilage in her left shoulder joint.  It was just bone against bone.

"It started grinding and clicking and not working. And I had a lot of pain with it," said Erika.

Her problems began several months after an operation to fix a dislocated shoulder.

31-year-old George Limantzakis had the same surgery, with the same results.

"The pain is constant. 24 hours," said George.

George and Erika's surgeon x-rayed their shoulders and hold them they were among a dozen of his patients who had lost their cartilage.

In some cases, the bone itself had deteriorated.

After reviewing the cases, Dr. Charles Beck realized they all had one thing in common.

"The use of a post-operative pain pump catheter," said Dr. Beck.

The pain pumps feed medicine into the body to reduce pain after surgery.  New models had just come out that gave patients a lot more medicine.

Dr. Beck had used them in 16 patients, 13 of them lost their cartilage.

"Thought in good faith we were doing something to help our patients' pain and we actually created a far worse problem," said Dr. Beck.

After realizing the connection, a colleague of Dr. Beck's emailed one of the pump companies about the problems, and Dr. Beck published medical research to warn other doctors.

Soon, patients were coming forward all over the country.

"There have to be thousands of people that have wound up with this shoulder destruction," said attorney Charlie Thronson.

At least 500 cases are now being filed as part of a class-action lawsuit against the pump makers, which still have their products on the market.

"To our knowledge, these pain pump companies are not notifying physicians to specifically not use this pump in the shoulder joint," said Thronson.

According to doctors, the companies also didn't tell them the FDA had not approved the pumps for use in the joints.

"The FDA has approved these pumps for use outside the joint. We have not uncovered any pre-market testing in the joint," said Thronson.

Both of the major pain pump companies on the market have been contacted.

I-Flow will not return calls and Stryker said it's their policy not to comment on legal issues.

But, in a court document answering the lawsuit, Stryker denies the allegations, saying the damage resulted from healthcare providers who owed the patients, "certain duties of care."

Reported by Kristy Ondo