A WOMAN who launched a campaign to support women victims of pelvic mesh and hold Australian health regulators to account has won two awards for consumer health advocacy.
Australian Pelvic Mesh Support Group founder Caz Chisholm received the Western Australian Health Consumers Council health consumers award and the Rosemary Caithness Award for outstanding service to health consumers after a campaign, supported by the Newcastle Herald, for a Senate inquiry into pelvic mesh.
Ms Chisholm’s group jumped from 39 members in early 2015 to more than 600 by Thursday when she received the awards, only days before International Mesh Awareness Day on Monday, May 1. The day was initiated by mesh support groups in countries including Australia, America, New Zealand, Great Britain and European countries including the Netherlands. In America alone more than 125,000 women have initiated legal action against mesh manufacturers after they were implanted with transvaginal mesh (surgery through the vagina rather than the abdomen) after post-childbirth complications.
An American woman on Friday was awarded $20 million compensation for complications after mesh surgery in 2007 using a Johnson & Johnson transvaginal mesh. In Australia 450 women have joined a class action against Johnson & Johnson, another 350 women have joined a class action against a second American device manufacturer, and more than 1000 women in total have complained of serious injuries after mesh surgery.
Ms Chisholm said she was “thrilled and honored to receive these awards as this represents the acknowledgement of all women suffering from the devastating effects of mesh”.
“What we seek first and foremost is recognition of our pain and suffering because most of us have been ignored by doctors, and when we do present with complications we are told they are caused by anything other than mesh,” Ms Chisholm said.
“Yet when women join the support group and they read about the same complications as others, they breathe a sign of relief and often cry because finally they have the recognition that they are not imagining their pain and they are not going crazy.
“They realise their pain is real and their pain is from mesh.”
Western Australian Health Consumers Council executive director Pip Brennan said Ms Chisholm’s double win of the two most prestigious consumer health awards recognised her tireless advocacy for mesh victims and outstanding work on giving them a voice.
“The use of mesh is now the subject of a federal Senate inquiry, which is taking submissions until May 31, and the inquiry’s title is ‘Number of women in Australia who have had transvaginal mesh implants and related matters’. This highlights that we simply don’t know how many women have had these implants, and how many of them have suffered complications,” Ms Brennan said.
“Caz Chisholm has spent significant time and energy raising awareness for women about the issue and providing essential peer support. She was also directly responsible for ensuring that the Senate inquiry was successfully advocated by Senator Derryn Hinch.”
In 2016 Australia’s peak health regulator for medical devices, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, quietly placed on its website a list of at least 30 known complications following pelvic mesh surgery, after TGA executives met with Ms Chisholm and other support group members.
The complications include punctures of vessels, nerves, structures or organs including the bladder, urethra or bowel; foreign body response including erosion of mesh into the vagina, bladder or bowel; chronic infections; acute or chronic pain; pain during intercourse; temporary or permanent inability to void via the lower urinary tract; bleeding; chronic pain in the groin, thigh, leg or abdomen; atypical vaginal discharge; exposed mesh may cause pain to the patient’s partner during intercourse and abscess.