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Health: Local Woman Says Her Life Fell Apart After Knee Replacement Surgery

By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Getting a joint implant that you're allergic to, it could happen to you or someone you know.

Diane Vellucci says her life fell apart after having both knees replaced, and it wasn't the ordinary pain from an operation. It was all over her body and kept getting worse. Diane says, "I thought I was dying. I absolutely thought I was dying."

The 56-year-old from Bucks County had to use a leg lifter to get on and off the couch where she spent months in pain, weak and exhausted. Doctors said it was an especially slow and difficult recovery from surgery and kept prescribing more drugs, even morphine. But Diane knew it was something else, "It felt like something was poisoning me but I couldn't figure out what was going wrong."

Finally, Diane figured it out on her own. Because she is allergic to a lot of things, including metal costume jewelry, maybe she was allergic to her new knees, too!  So she had a special blood test that showed she was reactive to nickel, a metal that was in her knee implants.  "I never would have expected your whole body can actually react to metals," explained Diane.

The only solution: new implants with no nickel in them. For that, she turned to Dr. Geoffrey Westrich at the hospital for special surgery in New York. He did one knee at a time and quickly saw improvement. Dr. Westrich says, "It was a remarkable turnaround from how she started. Very impressive."

Could it all have been avoided? Dr. Westrich says there is one way to predict a possible allergic reaction, "Patients that come in and say they have an allergy to costume jewelry, earrings, bracelets, and they get rashes, those sorts of patients usually are allergic, and we'll avoid using nickel or chromium cobalt implants in those patients."

Diane was never asked about metal allergies before her original surgery, and most patients aren't.   Here's why: even though 1 in 5 people are allergic to nickel, not everyone will have a reaction to an implant. So these metal tests aren't required before surgery, but experts say it's a good idea for patients to discuss all allergies before surgery.

Diane says, "I know I'm a rare case, but I know that there's other people out there that must be suffering the way I did. Be your own advocate, if you believe that something is wrong, keep investigating. Keep asking for help."

Diane is fully recovered now, pain free, and enjoying walks with her husband.

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