Recent mesh news from the ABC
Surgeons defend hernia mesh amid patient claims about bowel blockages and vomiting faeces
Australian surgeons say complications are rare for hernia mesh surgery, as more patients speak out about issues they have experienced after the procedure.
People who have had problems after hernia mesh is inserted say the problems cannot be downplayed.
They have described hallucinations, projectile vomiting faeces, and skin colour changes from a faecal build up in their bodies.
Western Australia resident Alan Thomson told the ABC he had endured years of excruciating pain after several hernia mesh operations.
He said at its worst, he got a bowel blockage and vomited up faeces.
“The problem was that when they realised that my bowel was blocked, they were in the process of putting a tube down my nose into my stomach and I gagged,” Mr Thomson said.
“It was just one of the most disgusting things I have ever had to experience, and it was just pure poo coming out of my mouth.
“Then I looked down at myself and said to the nurses that probably the best thing you can do is actually stand me up and just hose me down.”
Mr Thomson plans to travel to the United Kingdom next month to get the mesh taken out, after he could not find a surgeon to do it in Australia.
Man says faecal build up changed his skin colour
Peter Mcilroy, also from Western Australia, said he had suffered complications from the insertion of mesh to fix several hernias.
“In the end I asked them why my skin was turning brown and then they took me away and found out I had peritonitis, and they reckoned the mesh had ulcerated my bowel,” he said.
Mr Mcilroy said his skin was turning brown, but medical staff simply put that down to him being tanned because he worked outdoors.
“They said ‘You work outside’ and I said ‘Yeah, but I don’t work in the raw’ and it was all over me,” he said.
“I just could not breathe because I was slowly filling up with my own faeces, so that is why my skin was brown.”
Surgeons say mesh is safe
Board in General Surgery national chairwoman Kellee Slater said the mesh was the best form of hernia repair.
“There are certainly complications associated with hernia mesh, however the problem with abdominal hernias if you don’t use mesh, the hernia comes back 70 to 80 per cent of the time,” she said.
“The complications with mesh are in the order of 5 per cent, and all of the patients are warned about that before the mesh is put in.
“But there is no such things as a perfect mesh, but without them hernia repair does not work.”
Dr Slater said the mesh had been used for more than 20 years and the risk rate remained “reasonably constant and low”.
She said the benefits of fixing the hernia outweighed the risks.
In the United States, hernia mesh class actions claim the mesh had a faulty design.
US group Consumer Product Safety Commission said as of February, there were more than 54,000 hernia mesh lawsuit cases pending in state and federal courts.
Lawyers alleged the products caused internal injuries and other complications.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said hernia mesh manufacturers had recalled more than 211,000 units of hernia mesh from 2005 to March.
It said manufacturers recalled the hernia mesh after people reported failures and organ injuries following surgery.
The FDA blamed recalled mesh for some of the worst complications.
Pelvic mesh implants ‘one of the biggest medical scandals’ involving Australian women
A scathing report into transvaginal mesh implants has recommended the devices “should only be used as a last resort” and found some women were not properly informed about potentially serious side effects.
The Senate Community Affairs References Inquiry began investigating the pelvic implants after hundreds of Australian women complained of serious and debilitating side effects.
Senator Derryn Hinch, who spearheaded the inquiry, said the damage to women was far worse than the committee thought it would be.
It’s easier to track faulty car parts than medical devices
When Takata airbags were recalled, the manufacturers were able to tell motorists the make, model and year of the cars with the faulty safety device. But it’s a different matter when there’s a fault in “spare parts” for humans.
“I believe it was one of the biggest medical scandals Australian women have ever been subjected to and there are still a lot of questions to be answered, ” he said.
“Thousands of women were deformed.”
The report recommends:
- setting up a national register to track all implants
- better education for both doctors and patients
- more surgical training so women can get the devices removed
- establishing specialist counselling programs to assist women who have sustained injuries
- introducing mandatory reporting of adverse events by medical practitioners
Senator Hinch said the committee estimated between 10,000 to 15,000 women may have suffered side effects from mesh devices.
The committee’s chair, Rachel Siewert, said many of the women who received mesh suffered for a long time.
“They were ignored and treated appallingly,” she said. “I hope we never have another inquiry where we see such suffering from the witnesses.”
‘It’s time to see some legislation’
Gai Thompson had a mesh device implanted ten years ago. She said it ruined her life.
“The Senate inquiry was a welcome step-forward for sufferers like me,” she said.
“Now it’s time to see some legislation that ensures that this never happens to another woman again.”
Ms Thompson is one of the claimants in a class action against one of the mesh manufacturers, Johnson & Johnson. The case involves more than 700 women.
“The only reason any of us talk about the pain we’ve endured following our ordeal with this product is to impact change and prevent any other women from going through what we have,” she said.
Many women told the inquiry that “doctors didn’t tell them they were having mesh implanted,” Senator Hinch said.
“Others were told, ‘It’s a walk in the park. You will be like a 16-year-old girl again’.”
The Senate inquiry comes after hundreds of Australian women recounted how the devices left them in chronic, debilitating pain, unable to have sex and with recurring infections.
Many told the ABC they felt they had not been listened to by their doctors and were told the mesh could not be the reason for their ill health.
But with growing public outrage, in November 2017 health authorities banned controversial vaginal mesh implants for use in pelvic organ prolapse.
Pelvic mesh implant patients want answers from Senate report
Justine Watson was exhausted from years of chronic pain — and had just survived a suicide attempt — when she decided to cash in her life savings to pay for surgery in the United States.
The 47-year-old is one of a steady stream of Australian women with pelvic mesh implants who have spent tens of thousands of dollars flying to a clinic in Missouri to have their implants removed.
Ms Watson hopes a Senate inquiry report expected tomorrow will highlight the scale of the harm caused by the implants and the lack of effective treatment for victims in Australia.
“This has been a terrible betrayal of women,” Ms Watson said.
“Every person I consulted eventually put me onto a psychiatrist because they thought it was all in my head.”
Hundreds of Australian women claim they have suffered major side-effects from implants used to treat prolapse and incontinence.
‘It was my last hope’
In her submission to the inquiry, Ms Watson said she tried to take her own life in August 2017, “amidst the shock of discovering mesh was killing me”.
“I thought, ‘How can I continue living, feeling so unwell, not being a functional member of society?'” she said.
“I couldn’t get my head off the pillow.
“I couldn’t walk more than 100 metres due to the pain and chronic bad health.”
Ms Watson was living in Bali at the time and says a friend saved her life by kicking down the door of her home after being unable to reach her by phone.
Hitting rock bottom was a turning point.
“I decided if I was choosing to live, I had better take what seemed to be the only shot at saving my life,” she said.
“I went to America on adrenaline.
“It was my last hope.”
It cost Ms Watson about $50,000 to travel to the US and have her implant removed by St Louis-based gynaecologist Dr Dionysios Veronikis in October last year.
She’s one of more than 35 Australian women who have made the journey to the same practitioner because, they say, they don’t have faith in Australian surgeons to carry out a full removal of their implant.
‘We do not need the Senate telling us how to do our job’
The claim that Australia does not have the expertise is rejected by both the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG).
AMA president Dr Michael Gannon said he had enormous sympathy for the women but did not support their view.
“I’m not convinced at all that that level of care is not available in Australia,” Dr Gannon said.
“I have very close personal working relationships with urogynecologists, urologists and other surgeons who can very capably do this kind of surgery.”
Dr Gannon said there was no denying a substantial minority of women had been injured by their operations and that their concerns should be taken seriously. But he warned about the “secondary effect” of the publicity on the next generation of women.
“The companies that manufacture tapes and meshes, many of them are withdrawing from the market,” he said.
“We’ve seen a fabulous tape which has been employed successfully in thousands of Australian women, with success rates well over 95 per cent, withdrawn from the market.
“If we see an over-reaction from the Senate committee, we will see many more women denied appropriate levels of treatment because of the fears of litigation.”
He said he hoped the Senate report did not contain a list of new rules and regulations for surgeons to comply with.
“We do not need the Australian Senate telling us how to do our job,” he said.
‘I can feel the anchors digging and pulling into me’
But try telling that to Perth woman Tracey Whyte.
“Every movement, you can feel the raw edge of the mesh inside you,” she said.
When 7.30 visited her in June 2017, she was using a walking stick to get around.
Now, she is in a wheelchair.
She says she has tried to have her four implants removed but doctors will only agree to remove one of them.
She’s one of 700 women involved in a class action against manufacturer Johnson and Johnson.
If the case is successful , she said she would spend her money flying to the US to have a full removal.
“I can feel the anchors digging and pulling into me,” Ms Whyte said.
“It’s indescribable, mesh pain.
“I’d [rather] have a baby any day, honestly.
“The end goal is always to have all the mesh removed, not bits and pieces.
“Everyone in the mesh community gets sick when they have a partial removal.”