Hernia mesh complication 'like torture' for Christchurch grandfather
Excruciating testicular pain brought John Pritchard to his lowest point a few weeks after a hernia repair procedure with surgical mesh.
The 71-year-old Christchurch father and grandfather admits he was near contemplating suicide after surgery in June last year.
"I'm not a stranger to pain, I've had gall stones and kidney stones, I've even had a twisted bowel operation so I know pain and this pain is just out of this world, it's actually torture."
In June last year he started feeling pain in his groin and was diagnosed with a strangulated hernia – when the contents of the abdomen protrude outside and threaten to block blood supply.
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An operation was booked for the following day and deemed a success.
But two weeks after the surgery Pritchard began feeling severe pain which increased in intensity over the next few weeks.
Pritchard said it felt like his testicles were being constantly electrocuted.
The retiree believes his body reacted to the mesh and that it was responsible for the pain, but he has no way to prove it.
The New Zealand Association of General Surgeons (NZAGS) president Dr Andrew Moot defended the use of mesh for hernia procedures and said it had a very good safety record.
"Studies suggest a repair with mesh is associated with less pain than a suture repair, but you can always get pain after surgery."
Mesh procedures were much more successful in preventing a recurrence of the hernia, Moot said.
Chronic pain following hernia repair occurred in "less than 10 percent of patients," according to a NZAGS position statement.
Desperate for help, Pritchard searched online and found a new nerve pain medication. His GP prescribed it and Pritchard said it has made the pain slightly more bearable.
Nearly one year on from the surgery he is anxious about the effect of the pain-killers wearing off as his body adjusts to high doses.
His sleep is disrupted and he has developed a limp.
The keen amateur photographer and DIY enthusiast had to sell the 4WD he used to go on photography trips with. Now he rarely goes out.
"It has completely taken my quality of life. I just watch TV now."
The surgeon who supervised the procedure gave no hope or explanation, Pritchard said.
Although he would like to have the mesh removed, he was not convinced there was anyone who could do the job in New Zealand.
His treatment injury claim to the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) was turned down initially but is now under review.
ACC spokeswoman Stephanie Melville said medical information found "no evidence of a physical injury".
"The presence of pain is not sufficient to establish if there is a physical injury, we need a diagnosis of the injury."
General manager of Medsafe Chris James said the use of surgical mesh has already been subject to a recent health select committee process.
"The Government supported all the recommendations and the Ministry and professional colleges are implementing these recommendations."
"The benefits outweigh the risks if used by appropriately trained surgeons and in carefully selected patients."
He added that informed consent was important and the professional colleges had provided advice to members about ensuring patients understand the risks and benefits of the use of mesh and what the alternative treatments are.
In a statement released this week the Medical Technology Association of New Zealand, which represents mesh manufacturers said mesh products were safe and consumers "may be assured that surgical mesh products in New Zealand meet the highest quality standards."
Since 2014, ACC has received about 80 treatment injury claims for hernia repair with mesh with 65 accepted, Melville said.
Founder president of the American Hernia Society and mesh expert Dr Robert Bendavid disputed the safety claims.
He said most surgical mesh acted in the same way, "by stiffening, eroding, perforating, causing chronic inflammation, chronic infection, sinuses and pain".
Minister of Health Jonathan Coleman declined to comment on the issue.
Last week he said he was seeking advice from officials following the Health Select Committee recommendations, released in August last year.
The Health Select Committee decided not to conduct a national inquiry into the products but made recommendations, released in August 2016, to improve monitoring and education on "best practice" use.
- Sunday Star Times