Most of us have been told “at least you have your health” following a personal drama of some kind.
The chief purpose of this consoling statement is to remind us that when all else fails, we’re still alive and well.
Unfortunately for South West Rocks woman Toni Shannon, no such words could provide comfort to the total collapse she would experience resulting from a life-threatening health issue.
Toni’s crisis began when she inquired about potential treatments for incontinence, a common condition affecting 4.8 million Australians according to data available.
Following urodynamic tests, Toni was told about a particular treatment that could be administered via day surgery.
“At 48, I was keen to have no physical limitations to do anything I wanted in life,” Toni said.
“The minor incontinence was the only thing I thought was holding me back, so I decided to book my surgery during the April 2014 school holidays.”
Toni was given a brochure explaining the procedure, which said there was only a one per cent chance of complications. The main risk, Toni thought, was that she may not be entirely incontinent-free afterwards.
“My local surgeon was charismatic, caring and as an associate professor – I totally trusted his professionalism,” Toni said.
It wasn’t until the day of the surgery that things started to go wrong for her. Under the assumption surgery would take around 30 minutes, she would find out that the procedure was much more involved than she thought after reading the brochure.
Three months after she received a pelvic mesh implant, her health began to rapidly fail.
“I felt my body getting the most unusual all over pains, it felt like I had a constant flu.
“I was in so much pain that I started keeping a personal pain diary to help explain to my GP what was happening. One of my first journals mentioned that I felt like my immune system had collapsed.”
Toni’s personal and private life started to deteriorate due to suffering from constant severe pain and chronic fatigue.
Once a fit and active working professional, she had become incapacitated and all-but housebound.
It wasn’t until by chance Toni’s husband watched a story on the news about the dangers of pelvic mesh that it all started to make sense.
This information prompted her to investigate the type of pelvic mesh used in her case, and whether other patients suffered similar ailments.
“I quickly found out that the [pelvic mesh] device was under investigation in the United States, and had numerous legal proceedings against its use.
“In the USA there is a level three warning against pelvic mesh, and in Scotland the Health Minister apologised to all women who had these implants.”
Fearing the pelvic mesh would permanently injure, or even kill her, Toni was forced to remortgage her home to pay for more surgery in the United States to have it removed.
It was only when looking for a surgeon to remove the mesh she discovered it was permanent.
The US surgeon taking on the task of removing the mesh found that it had started to erode into Toni’s other organs.
Pathology results would soon reveal that the mesh had also caused Foreign Body Giant Cell Reaction.
“Removal had saved me from organ damage and sepsis,” Toni said.
“My autoimmune problems seemed to evaporate within days, and my body wasn’t constantly fighting for survival.”
Toni’s experience compelled her to campaign for stricter regulations regarding the use of medical devices that have not undergone rigorous testing.
Her devotion to a cause that has all but ruined her life finally led to a breakthrough last week when she and a group of other victims met with the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
At the meeting Toni and other sufferers challenged the TGA to suspend the use of the pelvic mesh until women with the implant have had the opportunity to report their complications.
A spokeswoman for the TGA said that medical devices could not be removed from the market unless there was evidence of non-compliance with regulatory requirements.
“The TGA has undertaken regulatory action against individual non-compliant transvaginal surgical meshes and will continue to monitor and take appropriate regulation action which could include cancellation or suspension from the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods in appropriate cases,” the spokeswoman said.
The TGA has committed to issuing a national media statement advertising where sufferers could report transvaginal mesh complications.
In hindsight, Toni said that she would have liked to have been given more options on the type of surgeries available (there are non-mesh options).
“I would have like to have been warned that the pelvic mesh (sling or tape) was made out of plastic (a polypropylene resin) and that foreign body response (autoimmune problems) are common.”
Toni’s urged others in her situation to get a second opinion and conduct research before undergoing any surgery or medical treatment.
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