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Is This The Biggest Health Crisis Of Our Time?

Is This The Biggest Health Crisis Of Our Time?

"They butchered you. It's like a patchwork quilt down there."

Is This The Biggest Health Crisis Of Our Time?

The shocking reality of how surgical mesh implants affect the human body is quickly becoming realised. As more and more cases of the major medical issues caused by surgical mesh surface, questions are being raised about a global lack of action on this major crisis.

Earlier this week Canadian woman Chrissy Brajcic died from sepsis caused by a mesh implant. Brajcic had actively campaigned against the implants, which resulted in significant health issues for the last four years of her life.

Brajcic’s tragic story highlights the thousands of people around the world suffering from health problems related to surgical mesh. The permanent mesh is made from a synthetic plastic-like material such as polypropylene, and is used in a number of surgeries including hernia repair, pelvic organ prolapse, urinary incontinence and vaginal wall reconstructions.

50% of women over 50 years with one or more children experience pelvic organ prolapse, the main issue treated with surgical mesh, a study in the Journal of the Mechanical Behavior of Biomedical Materials found. 

The overwhelming number of surgical mesh-related cases reveal a wealth of horrifying symptoms, from extreme pain, bruising, scarring and inflammation to injury to the bowel, nerves, stomach and urethra. Urogynaecologist Sohier Elneil told Sky News that the issue cannot be understated. “It’s a huge problem. I think it’s bigger than Thalidomide, because the numbers of those affected are much more. And if we look at the problem globally then it’s worse than metal-on-metal hips and the PIP scandal.”

“I was a clinical trial”

New Zealand woman Carmel Berry has been living with severe pain and disabilities since she had a surgical mesh implant in 2004. At that early stage, little was known about surgical mesh or its effects. “They said ‘don’t worry, we have this amazing new product. Nothing will ever fall out of you again,” Berry told MiNDFOOD.

“They put three pieces of plastic in me…I woke up in excruciating pain, it was like a train hit me.” Berry says she wasn’t warned of any risks and after multiple inspections was told there was nothing wrong with her. Several referrals later, however, she was told her nerves were damaged from the original surgery. Finally, in 2006, a gynaecologist made the connection to surgical mesh.

12 surgeries and nearly 14 years later, Berry is still suffering. After having parts of the mesh removed, Berry visited Wellington-based gynaecologist Hanifa Koya, who revealed her chances of having the remaining mesh completely taken out were slim. “She told me ‘they butchered you like a patchwork quilt down there,'” Berry said. “She said it would take a 12-hour surgery and there were no guarantees.”

Since declining the major surgery, Berry has been campaigning to raise awareness of the life-altering effects that surgical mesh complications create through her support organisation, Mesh Down Under. Berry has approached the Minister of Health, petitioned to a select committee and queried MedSafe with little results. “There’s probably nothing that can be done for me at this point,” she admits. “But we have to help the people who are struggling with this now.”

Global recognition

So why hasn’t anything been done about surgical mesh? In April more than 800 women in the UK sued the National Health Service over extreme side effects from the implants, but an investigation into the issue was never completed due to the NHS claiming that “the majority of women treated with mesh respond well to this treatment.”

Kath Sansom of awareness organisation Sling The Mesh says that “Nothing less than a full ban on pelvic mesh implants is acceptable now. When mesh goes wrong it is a personal tragedy for every woman and her family,” she contends. “There are black holes in data collection so nobody knows how many are suffering. Until there is a national register, nobody has a clue of how great this scandal is.”

Just last week, the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration announced that it was banning the use of surgical mesh for pelvic organ prolapse, effective from January 4, 2018. The organisation stated that “the benefits of using transvaginal mesh products in the treatment of pelvic organ prolapse do not outweigh the risks these products pose to patients.”

With a growing number of issues arising, the question remains: will New Zealand follow suit? The number of surgical mesh-related claims made to ACC New Zealand has doubled in the past three years, with 75% made by women and 25% by men. These statistics don’t include the hundreds, possibly thousands, of sufferers who have not made claims.

“A lot of people still don’t understand, or know, what surgical mesh is,” Berry, adding that she hopes with the new Labour-led government, changes will be made. “They absolutely have to. They campaigned on it. We have it in writing from Jacinda that she wants to fix this.”

The new Health Minister, David Clark, said he is chasing the ministry for an explanation about the lack of progress. “I can’t understand why there hasn’t been a [surgical mesh] registry formed and if there is a good reason I haven’t heard it.”

If you need support or advice about surgical mesh complications, visit meshdownunder.co.nz

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