JUDY* was implanted with a pelvic mesh device in Sydney in 2003 as two gynaecologists, including Newcastle’s Alan Hewson, wrote a paper warning doctors that the device she received “cannot be recommended”.
The Lake Macquarie woman cried when told.
“I was told it was a new device that was safe and would help me, and for all this time these doctors have said it was just me. That I was the one with the problem. Now I find out doctors knew. You have no idea how that feels after everything that’s happened,” Judy said.
“I was definitely a guinea pig.”
Judy was implanted with a Tyco Intravaginal Sling (IVS) pelvic mesh device in October 2003. The device was invented by Australian gynaecologist Peter Petros and developed and marketed in America by Tyco.
In 2003 Dr Hewson and Dr Chris Maher wrote a paper, “Intravaginal Sling Distress”, noting there was “little data on the efficacy and safety” of IVS techniques and mesh. The paper reported on “disconcerting” complications in women implanted with IVS mesh including serious infections and pain syndromes.
“All necessitated removal of the mesh due to symptoms debilitating to the patients’, and partners’, quality of life,” Dr Hewson and Dr Maher said, and “the incidence of these complications is unknown”.
Judy is one of more than 1750 Australian women who have made submissions to a Senate inquiry looking at how transvaginal mesh devices – where mesh is implanted in women via the vagina rather than abdomen – came to be cleared in Australia, and how an adverse events reporting system failed to act on the level of complications for more than a decade.
Judy, who was 36 when she had the surgery because of incontinence problems after a difficult birth, said her doctor told her the success rate with mesh was “really high”. But “when I woke after the surgery I knew straight away there were problems”.
What followed was a long list of complications including discharges, extreme pain, extreme infections including pelvic bone infections requiring hospitalisation, painful intercourse, mesh erosion and repeated surgery to remove the mesh, which left her with further complications including a vaginal wall that “caved in”.
Making contact with other pelvic mesh victims on the Australian Pelvic Mesh Support Group Facebook page was both positive and negative. It was a comfort to find she wasn’t alone, but sickening to discover the extent of the problem.
“These devices were put into us and they didn’t even know if it was safe. How does this happen?” she said.
(Judy asked that her surname not be published.)