Kiwi women given defective implants

HEALTH SCARE: The faulty breast implants, such as this one removed from a French patient, were a cheaper option.
HEALTH SCARE: The faulty breast implants, such as this one removed from a French patient, were a cheaper option.

Silicone breast implants that sparked a global health scare were used in New Zealand patients, the Health Ministry says.

Eighteen New Zealand women have been identified and surgeons have been advised to consider whether an MRI scan is necessary to check for leaks or ruptures.

Retired Wellington plastic surgeon Colin Calcinai imported the implants filled with industrial grade silicone in 2003 as a cheaper alternative to premium implants.

"I heard about them at several conferences in Australia and in England," he said.

"Surgeons were talking about them and they were the highest selling implant in Europe."

Mr Calcinai heard through his Australian colleagues that there was something amiss with the implants, manufactured in France by Poly Implant Prothese (PIP), before the scandal hit the headlines in 2010.

He wrote letters to his patients advising there could be something faulty with the implants and asking them to contact the surgeons who had taken over his central-city practice.

"The reason I wrote to the women was so that they didn't hear about it in the media. I wanted them to know that I knew there was something going on even if I didn't know what it was."

Mr Calcinai could not recall if he alerted the Health Ministry about the possible risk.

He was "stunned" when it was revealed that PIP had used industrial grade silicone in its implants since 2001. "I don't feel good about it, I'm absolutely stunned by it and I really feel sorry for the women that are stuck with it because the anxiety ... must be enormous."

About 300,000 of the substandard implants were sold worldwide.

French officials ordered them off the market in 2010 and recommended they be surgically removed last year. PIP chief executive Jean-Claude Mas, 72, was arrested and charged with causing bodily harm.

Health officials initially said the implants were not used in New Zealand, but an advisory issued yesterday said 18 women had them inserted.

New Zealand Association of Plastic Surgeons president Howard Klein said one of Mr Calcinai's PIP implant patients had died for reasons not relating to the implants, two had them removed and replaced for other reasons and the remaining 15 had been alerted.

More Kiwi women could have the substandard implants as another surgeon, who was struck off the medical register, may have used them, the ministry's clinical leader in prioritisation, Chris McEwan, said.

"The patients, in all honesty ... are not at greater risk, but we understand that people don't feel that way, they will feel that they've been wrongly treated and in truth they were ... so that's what we're managing."

Women who had implants between 2000 and 2004 and do not know know what type was used should see their GP.

Removal of the PIP implants could be publicly funded, Mr McEwan said.

Patients might be given the option of paying for replacement implants and having them inserted during the removal operation at no extra cost.

ACC said it would consider cover for a ruptured breast implant depending on the circumstances.

If a person had an implant that was not causing problems, cover was unlikely, but decisions were made on a case by case basis, a spokesman said.

Overseas, women are threatening to sue for compensation.

More than 1000 New Zealand women were involved in a class action against United States breast implant manufacturer Dow Corning in the late 1990s and more than half later received payouts.

Mr McEwan said the PIP patients could try to sue but he did not see the point as they had not been harmed.

Medsafe said the latest tests by overseas regulators had found no evidence of toxicity with the implants. Any link to cancer had also been dispelled.

Contact Bronwyn Torrie
Health reporter
Twitter: @brontorrie

The Dominion Post