Kerre McIvor

Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre McIvor: Rape victim may yet get justice

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Jacqui Scott was raped in 2006 and sustained injuries so bad, she underwent a 9-hour surgery. Photo / John Cowpland
Jacqui Scott was raped in 2006 and sustained injuries so bad, she underwent a 9-hour surgery. Photo / John Cowpland

I was incensed this week when I read the story of Jacqui Scott, as indeed were most people when they read of her ordeal.

In 2006 Jacqui was raped. The assault was so severe that a nine-hour operation was required to repair the damage done to her. Part of the operation involved inserting two surgical mesh units - one of the them, the Prolift Total Pelvic Floor Repair System is the biggest mesh ever made and Jacqui is believed to have been the only person in this country to have had the mesh inserted into her body.

A year later, Jacqui was still in pain - disabling pain in her back, stomach and legs. When she went back to the doctors, looking for reasons she was in so much pain, she was told it was all in her mind and merely ongoing trauma from the attack.

That condescending approach ratcheted up my blood pressure another few notches. Of course, the doctors wouldn't entertain the notion there might be something wrong with their surgery or their medical products - it must be all in the little lady's head.

In the end, Jacqui found the reason for the pain herself. After extensive online research, she found that both of the mesh implants used in her surgery are on the US Food and Drug Administration's list of medical devices that have caused adverse events and can cause severe complications.

The obvious solution was to remove the mesh, but Jacqui says she was advised that there was no one in this country who could perform the operation and she would have to travel overseas to get the mesh removed safely. Her ACC case manager advised that ACC couldn't fund a trip to the United States to have the mesh removed, so Jacqui was forced to go public to try to raise the money for the trip - and the surgery - herself. Hence how people have heard about her story.

I was absolutely furious that, after what this poor woman has been through, no one seemed willing or able to help her.

Get on to ACC, said my callers and Facebook correspondents. Get the minister to do something, others cried. And so I put in calls to the minister, Judith Collins.

Of course, ACC is a statutory corporation, independent of the Government, so the minister has no powers to direct ACC on any of its findings. But given that Collins, the Minister for ACC, is a can-do, make-it-happen - oh all right, bossy - kind of a woman, I thought she might be able to perform magic. But no.

I was referred on to ACC. And there I found that the headline in the newspaper, "Funding refused for rape survivor" was a little provocative.

ACC refused funding because, by law, they are unable to fund operations overseas for any individual, no matter their circumstance. A comment from lawyer Hazel Armstrong that the law could be "tweaked" makes it sound like a simple procedure - but any changes to the law would have to go through due process, three readings in the House and sign-off from the Government.

So it is unlikely the Government would change the law to help just one person - it would need to decide whether to open the door to overseas travel to all New Zealanders who cannot get treatment here and need surgery overseas.

So, I asked the ACC spokesman in desperation, what ARE you going to do? Given that people are unique in the way they respond to medical and surgical treatment, there must be a discretionary fund to allow people who fall outside the strict criteria of the corporation to receive what they are rightfully owed.

There isn't, said the ACC spokesman. No slush fund to speak of.

But I was heartened, just a little, that the corporation is doing what it can within the law to help Jacqui. They have approached the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to see if one of their members is able to perform the procedure and failing that, whether another solution can be found.

They say there is a real willingness to work with Jacqui to try to alleviate her misery and they will be doing all they can - within the law. Her claim has been approved: it's just a matter of trying to find a way to give her back some quality of life.

I'm not going to forget about Jacqui Scott.

She fought back from a vicious attack and wasn't willing to let the rape - or her injuries - destroy her life.

For her to be struggling now, as a result of the medical procedure designed to heal her, is too cruel.

- Herald on Sunday

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