More women describe transvaginal mesh problems
Published Monday, April 30, 2012 10:01PM EDT
Since CTV News first reported on a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of women who say they have had life-altering complications from something called transvaginal surgical mesh sling, more women have come forward with similar complaints.
Jane Dowall is one of those who got the mesh. She says she had no idea she would end up with so much constant pain.
"The pain is like a migraine headache… from the knees to navel," she says. "Sometimes it is burning, sometimes it is a sharp pain."
She rarely goes out, she says, and lives on painkillers -- the result, she says, of a procedure that was meant to fix her stress urinary incontinence.
Dowall was one of dozens of women who contacted CTV News and class action lawyers after seeing our story about complications with transvaginal surgical mesh. The mesh is used in slings designed to treat incontinence and to support organs in the pelvis that have fallen from normal position.
For many women, the mesh does as it was designed to do. But many others say they have experienced complications after the mesh moved or began to fall apart.
Sheri Hanson says since she had mesh implanted in early 2010, she can't work and is on a disability pension because of pain. That money has to support her and her husband who has quadriplegia. Even while taking painkillers, she says her pain is constant and still ranks as a 5 on a scale of 1 to 10.
"I can't sit, it's difficult to drive. I can't sit more than five minutes before I am in bad pain," she says adding she feels guilty that she can't take care of her children properly.
"My greatest fear is that it gets worse than it is now. The mesh could migrate further," she says.
Diane Fichter says after she had the mesh implanted in October 2010, doctors discovered her mesh had come loose and was piercing her vaginal wall.
"It's very scary to know what is happening to my body and what the mesh is doing to my body," she says.
Perhaps the most disturbing case we heard about was that Nonie Wideman, who has discovered bits of purple mesh fibres that have broken off and have come out of both her vagina and her bladder in her urine.
"It's eroded into my urinary system and I am in trouble," she says, adding that the pain has left her suicidal.
She has now found a pain reliever that's working for her, but she's still searching for a surgeon qualified to remove the mesh from her body.
The husbands of many of the women who have had the mesh say they have also been affected. Many have described feeling a foreign substance in their partner during intercourse. Others have even had their penises scratched or cut during intercourse from mesh fibres that have punctured the vaginal wall.
And still others have found that their wives are in so much pain, physical intimacy is no longer a possibility.
Many doctors say transvaginal mesh has been a huge benefit for many women. Dr. Jens-Erik Walter of the Canadian Society of Pelvic Medicine, and the Urogynecology division at McGill University, says complication rates are low, between one and five per cent.
While some U.S reports suggest the complication rate could be closer to 10 per cent, Walter insists the products are safe.
"It is unfortunate that some women experience such complications but the risk of this is very low and the clinical efficacy of these procedures has been documented in clinical trials," he says.
The key, Walter says, is that the mesh has to be used in the right kind of organ prolapse patient, Walter says.
"There are certain populations where transvaginal mesh products should be avoided, for example: younger patients who have what we refer to as vaginal atrophy, which is a lack of estrogen in the vagina; and those patients who may be immune-compromised or who have poorly controlled diabetes, whose tissues may not accommodate the mesh as readily as others," he says
Mesh slings used for incontinence are more acceptable in the younger population if they have completed childbearing and are otherwise healthy, Walter added.
The devices also have to be properly inserted by well-trained surgeons.
"I don't think all of the surgeons carrying out these procedures have sufficient training to manage their complications and potentially thoroughly counsel these patients regarding these risks," he says.
The problem, though, say many affected women, is that the mesh is designed to become part of the body, so if the mesh starts to break down, it becomes very hard to remove. Many of these women say that while they were told there were some risks to the surgery, they were never told how devastating and life-changing the complications could be.
Had they known, most say they would have picked other ways of treating their health problems.
With a report from CTV's medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip