Feature Image of an assortment of implantable pelvic mesh devices sourced from:
Dear Pain Matters blog readers,
This blog post aims to offer hope, inspiration and courage to those women who suffer from severe and ongoing pelvic pain due to failed vaginal mesh implant surgery.
Pelvic mesh implant surgery was often recommended when conservative treatments for prolapse, incontinence and other pelvic conditions failed.
Source: Stocktrek images via Getty Images
Many women were ill-advised of the high risks associated with mesh implant surgery including severe and disabling pelvic pain.
In November 2017, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) in Australia finally banned 45 pelvic mesh devices including vaginally-implantable prolapse mesh devices and certain mesh slings following the international pelvic mesh fiasco (McCarthy, 2017).
THE GOOD NEWS FOR SOME FAILED MESH IMPLANT PATIENTS
Patients suffering from severe pain and other serious complications due to failed mesh implants may explore whether mesh removal surgery (i.e. mesh excision) is a viable option to remove all or part of the mesh implant.
A French Mesh Removal Study
A French mesh removal study revealed that mesh can be removed both safely and efficiently in many patients, with operating times averaging only 21 minutes. (NB Some mesh removal operations may require several hours to perform.)
Specifically, 61 of 83 mesh patients underwent complete mesh removal. Fifty-eight (58) mesh excisions were done more than 2 years after the mesh was implanted in the first place (Marcus-Braun and von Theobald, 2010).
A Dutch Mesh Excision Study
A Dutch study analysed 73 patients who underwent partial or complete mesh excision. Seventy-seven percent (77%) suffered severe pain including vaginal pain, pain during intercourse and abdominal, back, buttock and/or leg pain prior to mesh removal.
Thirty (30) patients had complete mesh removal while the remaining 43 patients underwent 51 partial mesh operations.
Positive outcomes were achieved for most of the 73 patients.
Specifically, 70% of the patients who underwent complete mesh excision and 60% of those who had partial mesh excision enjoyed COMPLETE RELIEF from mesh-related symptoms (Tijdink et al, 2011).
The following is a story about Catie in New Zealand who underwent 3 operations in an effort to remove all mesh.
Catie’s pelvic mesh was initially implanted without incident. However, 2 years later, (quoting Catie) ‘[the mesh] was rotting and eroding inside …’, causing pain and discharge. At first, Catie was treated for a potential STD (which wasn’t the case at all) via ‘many courses of metronidazole’, an antibiotic with terrible side effects.
Several years later in March 2011, Catie finally underwent her first mesh removal surgery. The partial mesh excision took 5 hours because (in Catie’s words) ‘[the mesh] was so ‘stuck’ on in bits and the surgeon had a lot of difficulty getting it out’.
By August 2012, Catie had 2 more excision surgeries.
After her third (and hopefully final) excision surgery that involved ‘a good clean out’ and a D&C, (quoting Catie) ‘there [was] no revolting discharge and … no pain’.
In Catie’s view, it may be another year or more before she will have fully recovered. She credits her mesh removal surgeon for being wonderful.
Formerly a triathlete, Catie is struggling to become active again. Nonetheless she is grateful for feeling better after a very long and painful journey.
WARNING – DO NOT UNDERGO RISKY MESH IMPLANT SURGERY
ALL WOMEN, both young and young-at-heart, should be DISCOURAGED from undergoing surgical mesh implants in the first place. Full stop. End of story.
The high risks and serious complications can be catastrophic, post-mesh implant surgery. Mesh implants can cause permanent, disabling and incapacitating pelvic injuries as well as severe, intractable pelvic pain.
Quoting Jan Wise (who now suffers from back and leg pain thanks to a botched implant surgery involving a pig intestine pelvic mesh device in 2012):
‘[I am] rotting from the inside … shooting electrical shock pain from my lower body up through to my head … hoping the thoughts of the nightmare won’t take up too much of [every] day. I allow myself only one period of sadness and crying per day’ (McCarthy, 2017).
Post-implant, in addition to severe pain, Jan suffers ongoing incontinence, a collapsed vagina, (quoting Jan) ‘putrid seroma discharge’ and ‘pelvic discharge with a foul smell’ as well as loss of intimacy with her husband. In her words, ‘It’s a dreadful mess down there.’
Some women require pain killers and benzodiazepines as well as regular catheterisation (due to a lost ability to urinate following a failed implant). Many suffer chronic incontinence together with ongoing urinary tract and vaginal infections, discharge and granulomas. Others require enemas for chronic bowel problems. Punctures or lacerations of vessels, nerves, bladder, urethra, bowel, organs and other structures may occur. Mesh implants often erode into the vagina rendering sex impossible with their husbands or partners.
In some instances, exposed mesh may even cause pain and injury to the male partner during intercourse (McCarthy, 2017; Stern, 2017 – in German).
Sadly, the list of mesh-related severe complications seems to never end.
One Canadian mother of two young children has died at only 42 due to complications including heart failure and sepsis following pelvic mesh surgery to treat childbirth-induced incontinence (McCarthy, 2017).
Chrissy Brajcic (deceased at only 42 following mesh implant complications)
Believing to be too great a burden to their family and friends and after giving up hope altogether, other patients commit suicide to end it all (McCarthy, 2017).
If chronic pelvic pain prevails, the only effective treatment may be surgery to remove the implanted mesh (see above). Unfortunately, it may not always be possible to remove all of the mesh without damaging nearby organs and tissues. In other words, there may be residual mesh that is too risky to remove.
Options to try before even thinking about the unthinkable vaginal mesh implant surgery include:
Non Invasive Options
- Pelvic floor exercises, also known as Kegel exercises (named after Arnold Kegel, a US gynaecologist). Kegel exercise can be taught and supervised by a physiotherapist, and done daily at home (Ward, 2018);
- Yoga and pilates that aim to strengthen the pelvic regions.
- Incontinence pads (many women opt for this non-invasive option);
- Substitute action sports (e.g. soccer, tennis) for gentler physical activities that may lead to less ‘leakage’ … and don’t stress if there is residual ‘leakage’. After all, that is what incontinence pads and showers are for; and
- Maintain a healthy diet and ensure good quality of sleep. This is important for optimum autonomic nervous system function including high vagal output throughout the body including in the pelvic region.
Surgery Without Mesh Implant
- Surgery that does not involve mesh implants.
In conclusion, please avoid vaginal mesh implants altogether. The risk is too high that severe pelvic pain and other serious injuries may result, post-mesh implant.
An Australian Senator, Derryn Hinch, stated that ‘Transvaginal mesh is one of Australia’s greatest medical scandals’ (Marwick, 2017).
Others call it ‘the new thalidomide’.
Legal class action suits all around the world including more than 100,000 American women clearly demonstrate the unacceptable risks of vaginal mesh implants, with legal bills expected to exceed $20 billion.
The risks of mesh surgery including disabling pelvic pain, compromised or non-existent sex life, loss of enjoyment of life, suicide and death certainly outweigh any possible benefits.
To protect all women in the future, mesh implant operations should be banned altogether (McCarthy, 2017).
Finally, women currently affected by pelvic pain caused by mesh implants should be considered for mesh reversal surgery (assuming this is in the best interest of the patient).
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And please tell this person to never, ever give up!
Hope for Mesh Patients
Medical Papers and Articles – Corrective Surgery to (Partly or Fully) Reverse Failed Vaginal Mesh Implants
(1) Marcus-Braun, N and von Theobald, P. Mesh removal following transvaginal mesh placement: a case series of 104 operations. Int Urogynecol J. (April 2010); 21(4): 423-30.
(2) Tijdink et al. Surgical management of mesh-related complications after prior pelvic floor reconstructive surgery with mesh. Int Urogynecol J. (Nov 2011); 22(11): 1395-404.
(3) Stetson, Diana. Vaginal Mesh Excision. Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital, Michigan Medicine (May 2018).
(4) Transvaginal Mesh Removal. Colorado Women’s Health, University of Colorado Hospital.
A Patient Who Underwent Several Excision Surgeries to Remove All Mesh
(5) Catie’s Story:
Real Kiwis, Real Stories. New Zealand – Mesh Down Under
Media – Failed Vaginal Mesh Implant Stories
Alison Blake (Suicided Following Botched Mesh Implant)
(1) McCarthy, Joanne.’There was a look in her eyes’: Mother’s emotional torment at surgery nightmare. Sydney Morning Herald (20 December 2017).
Chrissy Brajcic (Deceased At Only 42 Following Failed Mesh Implant)
(2A) McCarthy, Joanne. Canadian woman Christina Lynn Brajcic dies after receiving pelvic mesh implant. Sydney Morning Herald (4 December 2017).
Please watch 2-minute video of Chrissy’s sad surgical mesh story (now deceased at only 42 following mesh-related complications).
(2B) Marsden, Harriet. Vaginal mesh campaigner ‘dies of sepsis after antibiotic-resistant infection’. Independent (4 December 2017).
Jan Wise, A Mesh Implant Pain Sufferer
(3A) McCarthy, Joanne. Pelvic mesh victim speaks out about ‘one of the greatest medical scandals in Australian history’. The Herald (23 March 2017).
Please watch 3-minute video of Jan’s tragic surgical mesh story.
(3B) McCarthy, Joanne. Pelvic mesh victim speaks out about ‘one of the greatest medical scandals in Australian history’. The Herald (23 March 2017).
Other Articles and Stories from Media
(4) Marwick, Jane. Why aren’t we talking more about one of Australia’s greatest medical scandals? The Daily Telegraph (29 August 2017).
(5A) Marsden, Harriet. The biggest NHS scandal you’ve never heard of only affects women, but men should be just as concerned. Independent (5 August 2017).
(5B) Marsden, Harriet. Panorama investigation reveals medical company failed to fully inform doctors of vaginal mesh risks. Independent (11 December 2017).
(6) Moss, Rachel. What is A vaginal mesh implant? Government to launch audit into complications. Huffington Post (30/1/2018).
(7) McCarthy, Joanne. Pelvic mesh left a man ‘stabbed’ during sex, regulator warned. The Herald (17 March 2017).
(8) McCarthy, Joanne. Australian pelvic mesh victims launch their case against Johnson & Johnson. The Herald (4 July 2017).
(9) Moodie, Claire. Vaginal mesh implants: Gynaecologist urges proactive response to health concerns. ABC News (4 July 2017).
(10) McCarthy, Joanne. Johnson & Johnson pelvic mesh doctor said he would not want his wife to undergo procedure, Federal Court told. Sydney Morning Herald (5 July 2017).
(11) Sansom, Kath. Vaginal mesh left me in agony. When will women’s health be taken seriously? The Guardian (27 April 2017).
(12) Pelvic implant lawsuit underway in Sydney. 9 News (4 July 2017).
(13) Smith, Leesa. ‘Vaginal mesh implant has destroyed my life — it’s just so hard to go on’. News (11 May 2017).
(14) For Donna’s, Catie’s, Helen’s and other mesh victim’s stories, please see:
Real Kiwis, Real Stories. New Zealand – Mesh Down Under
Please note: Catie’s story involving complete mesh removal may offer hope to other mesh patients.
Pelvic Mesh Support Groups
(1) Australia – Mesh Down Under
(2) New Zealand – Mesh Down Under
Kegel Exercises For Weak Pelvic Floor Muscles
(1) Ward, Mary. A weak pelvic floor can mean more than a little leakage. Sydney Morning Herald (18 June 2018).
(1) Wenn die Vagina plötzlich zubeißt. Stern (21 March 2017).