Within two months of getting a mesh implant, Jackie developed psoriasis on her scalp, ears and nails which she had to bathe daily in prescription steroid ointment – 12 years later, within a week of having the mesh removed by a specialist surgeon in Oxford,, the psoriasis cleared.
“Gradually the pain in my legs and groin intensified, my thighs felt like somebody had pulled and punched them. I used to go to spinning classes but had to stop as not only were my legs sore but I couldn’t sit on a bike saddle, I then couldn’t sit comfortably on a chair.
Jackie said: “At the time I never made the connection that the mesh could be making me sick but slowly my health began to go downhill.
“We are ticking time bombs for massive health issues. The mesh can be fine for years and then, as if from nowhere, cause huge health problems.
“X-rays showed nothing was wrong, but I began getting stiff. It became difficult to bend down to put on my shoes, I could no longer kneel.
“Then it progressed so I could no longer run. By 2012 everything got really painful, calf muscles hurt constantly and my feet were like intense toothache. I was sent to a rheumatologist, then a podiatrist who made me special insoles that cost a fortune. They made no difference.
“The pain was dreadful, by this stage I knew something was seriously wrong
“Having a mesh operation was the worst decision of my life. Suffering leaks after babies is one of those health problems you don’t really talk about with friends and family and certainly never at work,” said Jackie, a mother of two teenage sons.
“Like so many mums after childbirth, I would sneeze or laugh and get leaks, but it gradually got worse,” she said.
‘I trusted him completely’
However, her decision to have the operation to fix it was to turn life on its head. It is called a simple fix to an embarrassing women’s problem – incontinence or prolapse – often suffered after childbirth.
It is experienced at some stage of 1 in 3 women’s lives and the problem is on the rise among younger women who haven’t had babies due to an increase in popularity of high-impact exercise classes and long-distance running that put intense pressure on the pelvic floor.
Jackie said: “I went on a firm’s team building day and while we were kayaking had a leaking accident. That made my mind up to go and see my obstetrician, the man who delivered my babies.
“When he offered this quick fix for busy working mums like me, I jumped at it, I trusted him completely.
Quick fix for busy working mums
“It sounded so much better than weeks or months of physiotherapy and better than the old fashioned traditional surgery fix that had a much longer recovery time.
“I was not told of any long term risk, just that this was the gold standard treatment, so I had it done.”
“Then I stumbled on a national newspaper article about Sling The Mesh campaign in England and I made the connection. A woman the same age as me suffering all the same pain as me from a TVT mesh, I couldn’t believe it.
“Years of my life were miserable and my family thought I was being dramatic, finally I realised I was not alone. I was angry. Nobody warned me of these risks.”
Jackie, who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2016 – a common health issue subsequently suffered by mesh implanted women – ended up setting up her own Facebook support group called Northern Irish TVT, TVTO, Hernia and Prolapse Mesh Victims – the same surgical mesh material is used for hernia repairs and can cause problems of pain and erosion.
She said: “Some days I feel so powerless, women are coming to my Facebook support page in chronic pain looking for help yet I know their consultant will not refer them to England for mesh removal else it will open the floodgates to many more women.
“There are no removal experts surgeons in Northern Ireland to help these poor women. This operation needs stopping before hundreds more are maimed.
“Women should be given physiotherapy or traditional surgery fixes, not implanted with plastic mesh – it is Russian Roulette if you suffer.
““There are studies that show the plastic mesh is not inert. It can change inside your body. it can shrink, twist or degrade.. Imagine that inside the most delicate area of your body. No wonder women are in so much pain.”
- Women from Northern Ireland cannot routinely be referred via NHS for specialist treatment in other parts of UK. It can only be done after they have been to see a consultant and only then on their request can they put a patient’s case to a Multi Disciplinary Team for a decision via Extra Contractual Referral System. In other words – it is very difficult, Jackie said.