Two Irish women who underwent a 20-minute procedure in hospital to cure incontinence after pregnancy and childbirth have described how the surgery has had a devastating effect on their lives.
Lesley-Anne Stephens (39) and Janet Roche (48) told Prime Time on Tuesday night that they had a vaginal mesh inserted to cure their stress incontinence.
The mesh is like a sling, which is inserted into the walls of the vagina to treat incontinence and prolapse – common side effects following childbirth.
In Ireland, almost 7,000 public patients and thousands more private patients have undergone a procedure in the last ten years to treat urinary stress incontinence. The condition affects 30pc of women over 50, mainly as a result of pregnancy or childbirth.
Mother-of-two Lesley Anne Stevens (39) from Carlow decided to have the procedure after suffering incontinence after her pregnancies.
“I noticed that doing things like coughing, sneezing, bending over to pick something up, I would wet myself. It had got so bad that when I was driving and getting out of the car, I would wet and I would destroy myself.”
“So I went to my GP and she referred me to a gynaecologist who told me I had stress incontinence, and that he had a fix.”
Lesley-Anne had the mesh inserted in 2016. As soon as she woke up, she says, she was in excruciating pain
“I had severe pain in my groin, it was excruciating. I’d take more medication and I’d walk the floor in agony. I went back down to the gynaecologist, I told him the way I was and he told me that there was a piece of the mesh sticking through my skin, sticking through my vagina wall.”
“It has got to the point now where I can’t drive. I use a crutch to walk any distance at all. With the [her daughters] I have to use a crutch. I bleed a lot. I have a lot of internal infections. It’s debilitating.”
“To tell a seven and five year old when they sit on your knee, just mind mammy’s tummy, you know, that’s not fair, because they become little carers of you.”
Lesley-Anne says she is lucky to have the support of her husband Darren.
“I’m extremely lucky… [Darren] is my rock. He really, really is. And we’re very lucky that we have that deep love. Because even though we can’t spend time together, it doesn’t matter.”
“It’s not ideal telling my story like this. It’s my private life. We’re very private people. But I don’t think it’s fair that as we speak now, somebody else is in having that done, and there will be people in the very same situation as myself.”
“There needs to be something done before more people are destroyed with it.”
“I would love to think, and I hold out hope, that the day I’m mesh-free will be the day that my life can start again.”
“It’s something that has taken my soul… it has completely taken who I am away from me, because I can’t be there as a wife for Darren, I can’t be there as a mother for the girls in the way you should be.”
Today in Dublin, dozens of Irish women who’ve been affected by the vaginal mesh will march on the Dáil to highlight their situation.
Janet Roche (48) had the same procedure done eight years ago and is now on an invalidity pension.
“Within a couple of weeks after the procedure, I was in terrible pain. I couldn’t get off the couch. I was in agony, and I put it down to everything’s tightening up, and they had told me the operation had gone well so I just kind of thought it was just after-pains.”
“I would be in so much pain that I wouldn’t be able to speak. It used to terrify the kids.”
“I was actually convinced that they had left something inside me, because the pain would hit it would be like a knife. It was like somebody had cheese wire and they were just slashing at my insides.”
Janet, like Lesley-Anne, has had the mesh partially removed. Removing the entire mesh is a complicated procedure. Janet now attends a pain management clinic.
“It’s a bigger operation to have it all removed, so I have some still inside me which was too close to an artery.”
“I’ve been told that I’ll have a chronic pain condition for the rest of my life. They can’t cure that. It’s nerve damage.”
Janet, too say her relationship with her husband Will has changed as a result of the complications from the mesh.
“He’s like my carer now. We can’t have any kind of an intimate relationship and we haven’t been able to for years.”
Dr Wael Agur, Consultant Urogynaecologist, at the NHS in Scotland acknowledged the complications which have arisen as a result of the vaginal mesh.
“Some women have developed problems immediately after the insertion of the device, while some women, the adverse events of the chronic pain can reveal itself years after.”
He said the mesh device itself is difficult to remove because it embeds itself into the tissues, making it very difficult to separate them without causing “significant destruction”.
But Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan , from Cork University Maternity Hospital, told Prime Time: “Whilst it’s a procedure that has complications and problems like every other procedure does, calling for a ban on these procedures is not going to be helpful, and is not fair on the desperate women who are suffering on a daily basis.”
27 Irish women have complained to the health products regulatory authority about the vaginal mesh.
In a statement to Prime Time, health minister Simon Harris says he wants to ensure that we are in line, here in Ireland, with international best practice and emerging evidence.
He also added that the Chief Medical Officer is preparing a report at his request on the issues involved, and that if any woman is concerned she should contact her GP or contact the hospital where she had the implant fitted.