Patient urges surgical mesh inquiry

By Lee Scanlon of the Westport News

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

A former Greymouth Hospital patient says an inquiry into the use of surgical mesh can't happen fast enough.

Two women, Carmel Berry and Charlotte Korte, were today lobbying Parliament for the inquiry. They said surgical mesh had devastated the lives of many patients, leaving them in chronic pain.

Jen Branje, 45, of Ashburton, is among patients who supplied statements to back up their case.

Mrs Branje was living in Westport in 2012 when she underwent a hysterectomy and repairs to her bladder and vagina at Greymouth Hospital.

She said she was never told beforehand that controversial surgical mesh would be inserted or that it could cause side effects.

"I didn't understand the seriousness of what they'd done to me until I got home and couldn't pee at all."

By then her surgeon had gone overseas. She had to wait three months for his return so she could have corrective surgery at Greymouth Hospital. It was unsuccessful.

She underwent more surgery, performed by two urologists and a gynaecologist, at Christchurch Women's Hospital last year to remove the surgical mesh and support her bladder with a sling of her own tissue. However, that surgery was also less successful than she hoped. She believes some of the surgical mesh remains, as she still has groin pain.

Surgical mesh was dangerous and should be banned until an inquiry had been held, she said today.

"It can't be coincidence that so many people are being so maimed by it. All implanting of it needs to stop until the inquiry is finished."

Many patients were unaware surgeons had used the mesh until after their surgery. Scotland had suspended its use.

Mrs Branje said she still suffered from chronic groin pain, numb legs, and bladder and bowel problems. Sexual relations with her husband remained impossible.

She had tried to return to work, but managed only two shifts at Talley's Fisheries' Ashburton processing plant.

"I couldn't do any more. My legs wouldn't stand up to it, with the pain in my thighs and the nerve damage. It was just excruciating."

She previously worked as a heavy machinery operator, but said it now took all her time to drive a car. A trip to the supermarket left her exhausted.

She felt guilty that she could not have sex with her husband or contribute to their finances. She was unable to socialise because of her bowel and bladder problems.

Mrs Branje's case has been before the Health and Disability Commissioner for over a year. She has complained that the Greymouth Hospital surgeon did not advise her he was using surgical mesh or tell her of the risk it posed, and that she lacked care when he subsequently went overseas.

"I was left with three months of constant urinary infections and an inability to void my bladder properly while he (the surgeon) went on his sabbatical holiday."

She said the West Coast District Health Board (DHB) had apologised when it mistakenly sent her another patient's records. It had not apologised for what she sees as a surgical botch-up and lack of aftercare. Nor had it provided information she sought in a timely or understandable way.

The DHB has previously said it won't comment on the case while the Health and Disability Commissioner is investigating.

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