First Coast News in Jacksonville recently aired a story about four women who had the misfortune of being implanted with surgical mesh, three to treat pelvic organ prolapse or incontinence and one for hernia repair.  Unfortunately, all of them had a very bad outcome.

“The pain was severe enough that I couldn’t stay still on the bed,” said Linda Felts. “It just became unbearable.  I went into seclusion from this,” said Barbara Carter.

Carter had a sling for urinary incontinence and the next morning after surgery she says she knew from the pain that something wasn’t right. Carter reports she had pain where she never had it before and she couldn’t move. Her doctor told her it would get better, but it never did.

After enduring three years of pain another doctor told Carter the mesh had eroded into her bladder and intestines.

Surgical mesh made of polypropylene (PP) is the standard treatment used by most doctors to shore up prolapsing organs or to repair hernia. The Food and Drug Administration does not officially track complications so we only know through reports such as these how many people are suffering adverse events which can include, pain, nerve entrapment, shrinking and eroding mesh, infection and systemic reactions, among other complications.

Reporter Heather Crawford says in 2008 the FDA first issued a warning which said mesh complications were “rare” even as thousands of reports were coming into the FDA. What Crawford omitted from her report is that the FDA in July 2011 issued a second, more strongly-worded warning that complications are “not rare” and that mesh surgery complications may outweigh any benefit.

The story also includes an interview with Dr. Bruce Ramshaw of Daytona Beach Florida, a hernia surgeon who removed most of the mesh from one of the women who has since regained about 80 percent of her health.

In the story he explains the flexible mesh is not unlike that which is put in a screen door, soft and pliable at first but after time it can get brittle, and “crunch up into a ball or like a rock.”  What is not understood is why mesh complications are not the same in each patient.

Ramshaw said while eroded mesh doesn’t always cause pain, it certainly can. Pain can be so severe he’s had at least one patient commit suicide. Dr. Ramshaw estimates up to three percent of hernia patients he sees will have complications, though the complication rate has been seen at 30% in pelvic organ prolapsed studies conducted by mesh makers. Even so, he says up to hundreds of thousands of women and men may be affected.

Carter concludes the story by saying, “A lot of women could be spared suffering. I did have a life before this. I don’t have a life anymore. I don’t even know who I am anymore.”