Woman claims win over ACC after 13 years

By Brendon McMahon of the Greymouth Star

Jeannie McEwen says the surgery left her with horrendous pain and ongoing chronic bladder infections. She has just learned of her win following a hearing in February. Photo / iStock
Jeannie McEwen says the surgery left her with horrendous pain and ongoing chronic bladder infections. She has just learned of her win following a hearing in February. Photo / iStock

A Greymouth woman has beaten the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) following botched surgery 13 years ago.

Jeannie McEwen has decided to go public with her victory because she said numerous other woman are suffering after similar surgery and ACC's acceptance of her claim sets a precedent.

"I've been fighting this for a long time. No one normally beats ACC. I'm very methodical," Ms McEwen said yesterday.

She said the surgery left her with horrendous pain and ongoing chronic bladder infections. She has just learned of her win following a hearing in February. It means ACC will pay for future consultations and probable surgery.

"Hopefully it can help other women with bladder infections to be accepted -- it seems like a precedent. I's massive to beat ACC."

A member of the lobby group, Mesh Down Under, Ms McEwen said to her knowledge no other woman have had bladder infection claims accepted unless the mesh had eroded into the bladder.

She had surgery for three bladder pro-lapse repairs privately in Christchurch before the May 2003 procedure where the new procedure of inserting abdominal hernia mesh was used. This was supposed to finally fix the pro-lapse problem.

"From the moment I got that mesh in I have been sick. It's like having barbed wire inside you all the time -- the pain never goes away. It's just like constantly having a ball of barbed wire inside."

It emerged the mesh had "started to erode" and extrude.

Ms McEwen has undergone five separate operations under full anaesthesia in the intervening 13 years in attempts to fix the 2003 procedure.

It had "massively" affected her capacity to work and do normal activities such as sport.

The hernia mesh procedure was only used for a short time and dropped months after Ms McEwen had her surgery in 2003.

Purpose-designed mesh kits were made available soon after. These also caused problems for many women, she said.

In February 2014 Ms McEwen made a treatment injury claim with ACC, which it accepted that October.

Ms McEwen methodically built her own case, drawing on her previous experience as a legal secretary.

Her claim accepted by ACC specifically related to erosion of the mesh, mesh shrinkage by 40 per cent, bladder symptoms and spasms, and injury to the right pudendal nerve.

A separate claim for ongoing bladder infections from the botched surgery was declined.

"Even though all the medical evidence pointed to it they [ACC] just kept declining it. It is the treatment injury team that would not accept the claim," Ms McEwen said.

She appealed the later decision in December 2014 and was granted a hearing in April last year. "They still chose to not accept it, and chose for it to go to appeal."

This was adjourned until February last year when ACC failed to give her their submissions until the day before the April hearing.

The statement by the ACC doctor who reviewed her case was unbelievable, Ms McEwen said.

In ACC notes, the doctor said that although Ms McEwen was "certainly bothered" by recurrent urinary symptoms and "intermittent mesh extrusions" after the May 2003 surgery, "they appeared to be a frustrating nuisance rather than interfering with her life".

"That's the bit that is so bad, that they based their case on," Ms McEwen said. "She hadn't even spoken to me, let alone examine me."

Battling ACC had been "long and hard" while dealing with chronic fatigue from the recurring infections.

It seemed ACC was set against her claim because there was no precedent for bladder infections.

"It's disgusting that they got doctors to assess me that have never seen me."

Ms McEwen said that throughout the West Coast District Health Board head of obstetrics Dr Vicki Robertson, the High Street Medical Centre in Greymouth, her employer the Greymouth Star, and her current local ACC case worker had all been very supportive.

- Greymouth Star

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