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Surgical mesh complications tear lives apart

11:58 PM, Mar 22, 2013   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Four women share one thing in common: they all say they had such severe complications from surgical mesh they ultimately had to have additional surgeries to have it removed.

"The pain was severe enough I couldn't stay still on the bed. My legs would thrash. I would roll from side to side," said Linda Felts.

"I had nothing but infections, totally constant," said Elizabeth Greene.

"It just became unbearable and there would be times I would have to lay in bed ... with hot pads you heat up because I had inflammation," said Irene Hicks.

"I went into seclusion from this. It took a toll on me. It took a toll on my family. I could not go to the grocery, I couldn't go to church, I couldn't go anywhere," said Barbara Carter. "I was hurting so much I had to start wearing men's underwear, sweatpants."

Carter said her life has never been the same since she had surgery in 2007 for urinary incontinence. That's when she had a sling made of a plastic mesh implanted to help hold up her bladder.

"The next morning after surgery, I knew something wasn't right," she said. "I had pain where I had never had pain before. I told my doctor when we went in the next morning I couldn't move my body. My legs hurt so bad, he told me I would get better. I didn't get better I got worse."

Three years later a different doctor gave her shocking news:

"They found out I had the mesh and it was all in my bladder and basically in my intestines everywhere and I went to Mayo Clinic in 2010 and they had to open me up and did pelvic reconstructive surgery to try to get rid of all that mesh that had eroded and was floating around and caused all the infection," Carter said.

In 2008, the FDA issued a warning to inform the public about possible complications associated with surgical mesh used to repair hernias and treat pelvic organ prolapse, known as POP, and stress urinary incontinence, or SUI.

"Although rare, these complications can have serious consequences. The reports have not been linked to a single brand or model of mesh," a warning from the FDA reads.

Georgia attorney Henry Garrard is representing about 2,700 women right now, including Felts, Greene and Carter, who are suing mesh manufacturers. He wants surgical mesh pulled off the market.

"I've got cases from 43 different states. That tells you the breadth of it ... it is a national catastrophe," he said.

All four of these women say their mesh had degraded into so many pieces doctors removed what they could but they still have some mesh inside them.

"This stuff migrates. It goes everywhere and attaches to things and when it does it gets tight and that's when you get that pain. ... It's like a burning pain, wrenching pain," Felts said.

Daytona Beach doctor Bruce Ramshaw, who specializes in hernias, see patients like Hicks, who come from the around the world to have their surgical mesh removed.

"And you can see they are like a screen door screen and they come out of the package nice and soft but in the body in some people, they can undergo pretty significant reactions and they can get brittle. They can get more hard. They can crunch up into a ball or like a rock, but it's variable. The same exact mesh in two different patients can do very different things," he said.

Ramshaw said while eroded mesh doesn't always cause pain, it certainly can. Pain so severe he said has had at least one patient commit suicide.

"One percent, three percent, something like that, are getting more severe pain, like life changing chronic pain and if you add that up year after year, we're talking thousands, tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people now," Ramshaw said.

Hicks said she is now 80 percent back to normal since having the mesh removed.

But for the other three ladies, life will never be the same.

"A lot of women could have been spared a lot of suffering," Carter said. "I did have a life before this. I don't have a life anymore. I don't even know who I am anymore."

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