Synthetic Surgical Mesh Myths and Lies
By Lana C. Keeton
My Views as a Synthetic Surgical Mesh Patient Survivor
January 31, 2012
If you went to your barber for a haircut and he cut out a chunk of your scalp, along with your hair, you would find another barber. Yet it is accepted practice, and even recommended by prominent surgeons…and paid for by insurance companies…to remove “chunks” of a woman’s vagina or bladder, or other tissue or organ, to remove pieces of “eroding” surgical mesh – without anesthesia, I might add. The latest position of a group of surgeons says it’s a “minor” complication easily dealt with in the office. From a patient’s perspective, this is a barbaric practice which doesn’t stop mesh erosion from recurring year after year. Let me tell you, I have had many of those “haircuts” by Dr. G. Willy Davila at the Cleveland Clinic in Weston, FL and it is excruciating pain, not to mention demeaning and expensive.
You have to ask yourself, “Why would any doctor recommend such a procedure?” It’s quite simple. “Erosion” of synthetic surgical mesh, implanted during pelvic organ prolapse repair and/or bladder suspension surgeries, occurs repeatedly in an alarmingly high percentage of women. To tamp down the vast legal liability created by the widespread use of synthetic surgical mesh for these procedures in major institutions such as Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic, Vanderbilt University and the University of Michigan over at least the last decade, surgeons, institutions, major medical professional societies and industry are purposely diminishing the severity of the mesh complication so benignly called “erosion”. They even created a completely new lexicon of terms to describe mesh. “Exposure” is one of the new terms du’ jour. Marketing, marketing, marketing!
Writing major protest letters to the FDA, and testifying before the FDA’s Ob-Gyn Advisory Committee Panel Meeting in September 2011, surgeons, numerous professional medical societies, institutions and industry spoke out on behalf of foreign body polymers, petroleum waste by-products, and against the authority of the FDA’s warning of the serious complications, with no apparent benefit to women, of trans-vaginal mesh. “Pharmageddon”, as Paul Hilton wrote years ago, has arrived.
As a patient advocate, thousands of men and women have written to me for help. Now I am sure you are asking yourself, Why would mesh injured patients write me, another patient and not a medical professional? Why not just go to the original surgeon who implanted the mesh and get those complications straightened out? They write me because the medical profession and industry are not addressing the vast array of debilitating complications of synthetic surgical mesh. Patients are routinely abandoned or discarded by their physicians. So why is this? For one, the complications are frequently permanent and irreversible.
Other scenarios I am aware of….
- The surgeon is a paid medical consultant/advisor to a mesh manufacturer who is protecting his/her job, the clinic or hospital he/she works for and the mesh manufacturer. He/she does not want to validate what he/she knows to be truth about the dangers of mesh.
- The surgeon is not a paid medical consultant/advisor but paid minions of industry have been less than honest in informing the doctor about the nature, severity and real percentage of complications. The surgeon is unprepared to deal with the unexpected complications.
- The use of the body’s natural inflammatory response prevents the surgeon from explanting what he/she has implanted because, as intended by the manufacturer, the patients tissues have scarred into the interstices of the mesh.
- The surgeon knows the dangers of mesh and fears the loss of his/her career, reputation and financial security if he fails in his attempts to help the patient.
So what do these surgeons typically do? Most patients tell me the response is, what I term, the classic mesh lie: “It’s not the mesh.” They deny it is the mesh. Deny the association between the complications and the mesh. Say it is the patients fault. Say the pain does not exist. Say it is a pre-existing condition. Tell the woman she has back problems. Tell her the pain is in her mind and does not really exist. Prescribe an anti-depressant. Tell her the autoimmune disease she suffers is not related to the mesh. Send her for physical therapy (a highly invasive treatment where another person puts their hands into a woman’s vagina to manipulate it). Send her for trigger point therapy. But then, how is it a doctor identifies which injured nerves to inject in a woman’s pelvis for the trigger point therapy to succeed? Or send her for pain management. Or maybe they give her one of those in-office “haircuts”.
In other words, despite multiple physical manifestations to the contrary, doctors disconnect from the reality the pelvis is connected to the rest of a woman’s body and the mesh a surgeon has implanted IS the cause of the complications. In my opinion, the highly touted benefits of synthetic surgical mesh are a lie and the complications are a life sentence for anyone, and I do mean anyone man or woman, implanted with it.
I have to emphasize these myths and lies are the same for men and women implanted with surgical mesh for hernia repair. Mesh hernia repair surgeries just have a different, but very similar, set of dangerous complications. The horror of the majority of mesh complications is that they are permanent and irreversible. Even complete mesh removal does not mean major nerve damage will not result in severe chronic pain and/or permanent disability.
In my very informed opinion, the unnecessary use of synthetic surgical mesh for hernia repair, bladder suspension and pelvic organ prolapse is a disgrace to the medical profession, major hospitals and clinics, educational institutions and medical device makers. Synthetic surgical mesh does not self-implant. Surgeons should protect their patients by putting down the scalpel which only they control. Surgeons must STOP implanting surgical mesh, except in the rare cases where there is no human tissue available.
Based on my near death experience more than 10 years ago following the implantation of Ethicon’s Gynecare TVT mesh bladder sling, I can promise you “erosion” is a debilitating complication, not an in-office “haircut”! 17 procedures and/or surgeries attempting to remove it, chronic debilitating pain, autoimmune disease, bankruptcy and homelessness directly related to “erosion” are not minor complications. Surgery #18 is planned for later this year. Who knows when it will stop? For me, maybe never.
Changing the lexicon from “Erosion” to the word “Exposure” is not the answer. NEVER having had an untested, unsafe petroleum based medical device implanted in me would have been the best option. Surgeons must take a stand for their patients to stop this major medical scandal!