Imagine this: Two women had tree branches fall across their homes causing major damage. Both trees did the most damage to the kitchen. Cindy Lu hires the guys who promises to get the job done the fastest for the least money. Her contractor comes in one day, and chops out the middle of the branch and cleans up the mess on her kitchen floor and replaces her kitchen faucet so it will run. He gets the job done in less than a day. Karen hires a more experienced contractor who takes out the entire branch and repairs all her plumbing, appliances and replaces her furniture and cleans up every tiny piece of bark or wood chip. It takes several days. He comes back later on and fixes the broken walls, windows and doors and returns her home to as close to pre-storm conditions as possible.
Which contractor would you hire?
This is an analogy to what happens when pelvic mesh goes bad. The surgeon who chips away at pelvic mesh, one eroded bit at a time, sets up a patient for multiple surgeries— today’s mesh problem. Recently, Linda Gross won over 11 million dollars at trial after 18 surgeries to repair erosion, scarring, and tissue damage from a Gynecare Prolift pelvic sling. Surgeries performed after the pelvic mesh implant correct erosion, new or continued incontinence, difficulty urinating, infections, scar tissue, pain, deheisance, or fistulae. Women experiencing generalized symptoms they attribute to mesh opt for removals as well and report an improvement in their symptoms.
Did you know one study found 41% of mesh implant patients had to have at least one other surgery?
Synthetic surgical pelvic mesh was first thought to be faster, easier and better than traditional repairs like culpopexy and porcine and native tissue sling repairs. Newer research says it just wasn’t true. In a 2013 review, authors concluded that, even though sacral colpopexy had a longer operation time: “the sacral colpopexy had a higher success rate on examination and lower reoperation rate than high vaginal uterosacral suspension and transvaginal polypropylene mesh.”
Mesh removal is risky business due its faulty design. Absent-minded scientists have been accused of not stepping back and looking at the “big picture” ever since Thales, the Greek mathematician, looked up at the stars so often that he fell down a well. Designers of pelvic mesh imagined they found the best thing since the flat turret lathe or bifocal eyeglasses. It was so perfect, they must have thought, nobody would ever want to remove it.
It is an interesting observation that more doctors are prone to diagnose only what they can see—on your body, an x-ray, in a lab report then by the patient’s description of her problems. Headaches, backaches and now pelvic pain are the least recognized and treated medical complaints today. Until the “BLUE sh*t” (as Johnson & Johnson execs called Gynecare mesh in a secret email) could actually be seen by the doctors, women’s complaints were ignored. If they got an answer from their doctors, they were advised to have it snipped, dissected, ligated, trimmed or revised. When the mesh kept sneaking back, surgeons removed more little bits.
It takes a highly skilled surgeon like Veronikis, Una Lee in Seattle, and Shlomo Raz at UCLA to remove all of the mesh, including the anchors (secured ends). The few surgeons who do remove the mesh in its entirety complain that removing all of shards of mesh from healthy human flesh is like getting bubblegum out of hair.
Dr. Dionysios Veronikis of St. Louis, MO invented a surgical instrument that dissects the mesh away from the healthy tissue without cutting surrounding structures. He finds one end of the mesh and then carefully cuts, moving his instrument forward until it frees up the entire sling in one piece. It is hours and hours of painstaking work and healing from the procedure takes a long time.
Once mesh is removed, more surgeries are often needed to revise the damage left behind and fix structural problems. Complications, like bleeding, infection, and nerve damage, from mesh removal surgery are common. After finally going through removal surgery, 87% said they would never have had the artificial mesh implant in the first place, if they had only known. If you’ve not yet had an implant, you are one of the lucky ones because, now that there is more research and information is available on the net–mesh does not appear to be easier or better. Many, if not most, doctors are reverting to traditional fixes. You can save yourself a boatload of trouble by finding a surgeon who can repair your problem without mesh.
Peggy Day is working on a book to combine all these stories. This is an excerpt from Pelvis in Flames: Your Pelvic Mesh Owner’s Guide. Your input is welcome to help make Pelvis in Flames the book you need to read.
If you’d like to join an online support group and learn about erosion, partial removals, surgeons, or just find out that you are not alone, join my group, Surgical Mesh or check the list of support groups here.
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