‘My post-baby bod cost me my marriage’
Andrea Walter is one of the 1350 women involved in the vaginal mesh class action against Johnson & Johnson.
More than 1350 women who suffered devastating side effects from a pelvic mesh implant used to treat issues from childbirth have today won a class-action suit against global giant Johnson & Johnson.
It's the largest women's health class action in Australia and the Federal Court found the pharmaceutical company and its Australian supplier engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct and hid the reality of complications from customers.
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Vaginal mesh is used to treat urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse - common complications of childbirth, and while it has worked for some, for others it's had severe consequences - chronic pain, infection, inability to have sex, a significant psychological toll, and, in some cases, even death.
Andrea is one woman of the 1350 women. Here's her story:
At the time a hysterectomy seemed like a good solution. After giving birth to my second child in 2005, I'd been experiencing large clots, bleeding issues and was borderline anaemic. Then massive pains began in my pelvic area, which would often land me in hospital or an ambulance.
In 2009, I was operated on. The surgeon thought he would find endometriosis, instead he found lots of tangled tissue all fused together and my uterus adhered to my bowel.
It was suggested I have a hysterectomy to deal with the pain, but I mentioned that I had some leakage as well. The surgeon passing me a piece of blue stuff that he called TVT (transvaginal tape) which would help support my pelvic floor. I touched it, and felt the hard mesh. He said he had done hundreds of surgeries using this, so would do it along with the hysterectomy. I said: "What would be the worst thing that could happen"? He simply replied that the worst thing would be that it wouldn't work. He never told me the risks.
After the surgery I had an infection, there was a lot of pain but I just put it down to the healing process - I'd just undergone a hysterectomy after all. When my husband and I started to be intimate again, he was "stabbed" in the penis by something sharp. I assumed it was a "stitch" but the doctor told me that it was actually "mesh erosion". The mesh was poking through my vaginal wall.
I was told to apply a cream that would "thicken" the scar tissue to cover the edge of the mesh that was starting to cause me terrible pain. It didn't work. Eventually I had a surgery to "trim" the mesh but that cut the tension and the mesh rolled up into my body and I became incontinent. The surgeon said this was so rare and he'd never seen it before.
I went from being a 45-year-old mother of two, who worked four days a week, who loved to watch her kids play sports and volunteered at the school, to being in chronic pain.
It was devastating and it only got worse. I had mesh protruding back through my vagina, in two spots and the doctors said they couldn't do anything for me. I was the "only one".
I'd be curled up in bed for hours or days at a time, with pain, tiredness, brain fog, it was hell. I became unreliable as a friend, as a wife, as an employee. My kids would come in and lay with me or talk to me in bed. My relationship became very fractured during this time, and eventually ended.
I saw an article about the Shine Lawyers Class Action against Johnson & Johnson over the mesh products and then discovered that another school mum was having the same problems. I realised I wasn't alone.
This epiphany infuriated me and has fuelled my energies to fight for women like me, starting the organisation Mesh Injured Australia.
Although I have had mesh removal surgery, it was very difficult and I have ongoing permanent disability, with damaged nerves, scar tissue, incontinence and prolapse issues. l find it hard to sit or stand for any length of time without a flare up of pain.
We believe there is a tsunami of mesh injured who are yet to put two and two together that their chronic illness may have been caused by mesh implantation. If that's you then speak to your doctor. You are not alone.
More than 1350 women have already registered to take part in the Shine Lawyers Class Action and it is not too late to join: contact Shine Lawyers' Mesh Hotline on 1800 884 139 or visit shine.com.au/mesh
This article originally appeared on Whimn.com.au and was reproduced with permission