Woman faces long health battle after surgical mesh operation

Susan Waters of Motueka has ongoing health problems resulting from a surgical procedure she had involving the use of ...
MARTIN DE RUYTER

Susan Waters of Motueka has ongoing health problems resulting from a surgical procedure she had involving the use of surgical mesh.

What began as routine surgery to relieve incontinence has resulted in 11 years of debilitating infections for Motueka woman Susan Waters.

The naturopath and former nurse had surgery in 2003 to insert surgical mesh to alleviate the stress incontinence she suffered after childbirth.

ACC have denied Waters health complications are a treatment injury resulting from the insertion of the surgical mesh and she is now trying to raise $50,000 for treatment in the United States to remove it.

Waters is one of hundreds of Kiwis who have reported severe health problems after the insertion of surgical mesh, which is used to support weakened structures after pelvic organ prolapse, stress incontinence and hernias and there are currently a lack of specialists in New Zealand with the expertise to remove it.

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A few months after the operation, Waters began to get recurring bladder infections and which then turned into kidney infections that required hospitalisation for intravenous antibiotics.

When Waters is really ill, even getting out of bed is a marathon effort. 

"It is like you are drunk and debilitated," she said. "I know that seems ridiculous but that is how sick I get, I think 'am I going to get out of it this time'?"

She now has to take antibiotics daily and as they lose their effectiveness, she is at risk of dying from an infection.

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Waters had no health problems until the surgery, but now has a stack of papers that make up her medical file, telling of countless hospital visits, numerous appointments with specialists and several corrective surgeries to fix the problems she is suffering from.

Corrective surgery to cut the mesh did not alleviate the infections and a rectal repair resulted in paralysis in one of her legs for six months, before subsequent surgery to cut a stitch meant she was able to get the feeling back.

Over the years, the cause of Waters' health issues were not clear and she spent thousands of dollars on further testing. A urologist in Christchurch revealed her bladder was partially obstructed, she had higher than normal bladder pressure and low emptying flow which caused frequent infections. 

"It took quite a while and a lot of money to prove that, in amongst me being sick all the time."

Waters has battled ACC who declined her treatment injury claim, despite her evidence that the mesh is causing her problems and that seeking private treatment is her only option.

A Medsafe report in October said 91 adverse events had been recorded since 2005 relating to surgical mesh and stress urinary incontinence devices.

However an ACC review in 2015 found 466 treatment claims had been received relating to the use of surgical mesh between 2005 and 2014.

The Medsafe report showed 56,187 devices were supplied in New Zealand between January 2005 and October 2014, but it was impossible to know how many had been implanted in people. 

Last July, Carmel Berry and Charlotte Korte, who are both suffering complications caused by surgical mesh, appeared in front of Parliament's health select committee to present evidence to support their petition for a commission of inquiry.

Green Party MP Kevin Hague said the committee had heard from several people who had been affected by complications resulting from operations using surgical mesh and a report on the matter was expected to be published this week.

"We have certainly heard evidence from people who have talked about substantial experience of pain and discomfort and the ordinary functions of life becoming impossible," Hague said.

"Very clearly there are people who need surgical mesh removed and it's essential that the New Zealand health system provides timely access to that service."

Hague said there was currently no process for approving the safety of surgical mesh, which was considered a surgical device prior to its use in New Zealand and there were limited options available to those when it proved problematic. 

The petitioners had called for a moratorium on the use of mesh, saying that it should no longer be used in New Zealand. 

Hague, who is also the Green Party's ACC spokesman, said that ACC needed to step up to the mark. "For someone who has a treatment injury from the use of mesh there is no question that, that should be covered by ACC," Hague said. "Here is a group of people who very clearly are experiencing substantial pain and disability as a result of treatment injury, ACC needs to do its job."

ACC senior media advisor Stephanie Melville said treatment injury claims were complicated and required expert advice from appropriate medical specialists. 

"Once all the necessary information has been assessed ACC can then make an informed decision. It is in situations where the independent medical specialists find no direct causal link between the treatment and ongoing incapacity that ACC is unable to provide cover.  However, ACC is always be happy to reconsider a claim if a person has new medical information."

Melville said the specifics of Waters' case could not be addressed because no authority had been given to discuss the claim.

While some types of surgical mesh can be removed in New Zealand, no-one here has the expertise to cut out the type of "tape bladder sling" that Waters has. 

She is now waiting for a quote for the cost of treatment in the United States and is working out how to fund the treatment and trip expenses which is estimated to cost $50,000.

She had made an application to withdraw her Kiwisaver funds under the serious illness clause and would most likely have to take out a personal loan. 

A group of her friends have organised several fundraisers and a Givealittle page started for Waters has raised more than $6000 to go towards her treatment.

 - Stuff

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