Titanium Femur Eases His Pain - except at the Airport

By Stevens, Susan | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), March 19, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Titanium Femur Eases His Pain - except at the Airport


Stevens, Susan, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Susan Stevens Daily Herald Health Writer

Larry Helmer wears an extra layer of clothes when he flies. And it's not because he expects a chilly cabin in coach.

When Helmer hits the metal detector at the airport, the machine starts blinking like a pinball machine. The only way through is for Helmer to show off the long scars running from his hip down to his knee.

A letter from his surgeon isn't enough.

"They just say, 'Show us the scar,'" said Helmer, 27, of Elgin.

Now when he flies, Helmer makes sure to wear a pair of shorts under his pants in case he has to disrobe at the airport.

Helmer had his first titanium implant at age 16, when doctors diagnosed a rare bone cancer just above his left knee. They replaced half his knee and about 9 inches of his femur with artificial implants. Five years later, he had worn out that knee and needed a replacement.

By 2006, he needed yet a third replacement, but this time doctors took out his entire femur and hip joint, too.

Which means Helmer now has 17 inches and 3 pounds of titanium and cobalt chromium running through his left thigh.

It's unusual for someone so young to receive a total femur implant. The surgery is rare in itself; Biomet, the manufacturer of most femur implants, reports 38 were done in the U.S. last year, compared to more than 300,000 primary joint replacements. Most are done in older patients who have had multiple surgeries to replace artificial knees or hips and need another surgery.

"Every time you have another surgery, you have to remove more bone," said Helmer's doctor, orthopedic surgeon Shawn Palmer of Provena St. Joseph Hospital in Elgin. "He didn't have enough bone to do a new implant, which is why we had to replace his entire femur."

Without the new femur, Helmer likely would have been confined to a wheelchair or walker and living in pain, Palmer said.

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