Sandra, age 75, took Fosamax for about 10 years and took herself off it after her second femur broke in 2009. “My second orthopedic surgeon (for the second femur) got mad at me for not mentioning Fosamax when we first met, but I thought this med was building bone, not reducing it,” says Sandra.
“The first femur break happened one year earlier. I was a teacher and on my feet all the time, and I regularly exercised at the YWCA - I was in pretty good shape. One day I was walking with my friend, heard a popping sound and went down. I called my husband, thinking I had just twisted my ankle, and asked him to straighten it. Instead he took me to the hospital and they told me I had a spiral fracture. I was surprised but at the same time, both the doctors and I assumed it happened to old ladies: their bones break.”
Sandra had a fast recovery from the femur fracture but when her second femur broke, again when she was simply walking, she got worried.
“My second orthopedic surgeon had just read an article about Fosamax femur fractures and I was shocked,” says Sandra. “All this time I thought I was doing everything to keep myself healthy. I was eating properly, regularly working out and taking Fosamax.
“At the same time I was having a problem with my knee and getting regular steroid shots for pain from my orthopedic surgeon. When I asked about getting a knee replacement, he said, ‘That ship has sailed.’ I didn’t have enough bone. He then explained that Foxamax will deplete your body of calcium rather than build it if you take the bisphosphonate for an extended period of time.”
But there is some hope for Sandra. She is having a CT Scan tomorrow and a laser will determine where her surgeon will drill: He has to attach a component of the knee replacement in another place (not the usual procedure for replacement surgery) and the laser will direct him. Even though Sandra has no bone in her knee and faces another knee replacement in the next few months, she remains optimistic about the future.
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“I always believe the glass is half-full and full if it’s wine,” Sandra says, laughing.“I don’t have cancer so I am going to be fine. And I can’t blame my doctor who prescribed Fosamax - I don’t think she knew about the time issue. And I believe you are responsible for your own welfare, and be your own advocate with your doctor. You have to listen to your body. I am only angry with the drug company because they are still selling Fosamax and doctors are still prescribing it. The manufacturer must take responsibility for the harm they have done to so many people.”
When Sandra was 40, she was diagnosed with osteopenia, a condition in which bone mineral density is lower than normal. She had a bone density test prior to taking the drug, and another test taken a few years later showed that she was improving. So why not keep taking it?
“These femur breaks are bad enough but who knows what will happen to these rods in my legs down the road? My next knee is also bone on bone and now my hips hurt. I can’t tell whether it is because I am walking weird from my knee or if it is another Fosamax side effect. I only read drug labels if something happens, like feeling nauseous. I don’t even know if my Fosamax label said anything about femur fractures, but I do know that it should be taken off the market.”