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.”
Topics: women, government-and-politics, health, doctors-and-medical-professionals, medical-procedures, pain, womens-health,australia