Last Modified: July 31, 2023
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Life was good for Nancy Patterson. After being severely overweight, she had lost over half of her bodyweight about 15 years earlier after gastric bypass surgery and was healthy in her mid-70s. In fact, she was looking forward to a week-long family trip to Georgia in May to see her great great granddaughter and great-granddaughter — five generations of family.

So, when Nancy started feeling unwell in March, she and her family dismissed it as some kind of stomach bug. What they didn’t know was that defective hernia mesh from multiple hernia surgeries would end up sending Patterson to the hospital for two emergency surgeries for a dangerous bowel obstruction.

Frustrated and upset, Shelly, Nancy’s only child, reached out to share the story with Drugwatch as her mother was still in the hospital recovering.

CT Scan Reveals an Abdominal Mass

“She’s been in pretty decent health overall, up until a week ago,” Shelly told Drugwatch about a week after her mother’s last emergency surgery. “It started this past Thursday, and she started getting kind of nauseated and feeling really weak. She couldn’t eat anything.”

Shelly made the decision to take her mother to the hospital that Saturday morning when she started having severe abdominal pain, vomiting and still couldn’t eat. Doctors speculated that Nancy’s bowel may have been blocked from scar tissue from multiple hernia surgeries she had between 2004 and 2006 when she weighed 400 pounds. She also had a gastric bypass surgery in 2007 that helped her lose about half of her size.

But when a CT scan revealed a mass in her mother’s abdomen, Shelly immediately feared the worst.

“Well, I was just really worried. Because on my maternal side, we have a family history and several people have died of cancer of the colon or bowel or abdominal cancer,” she said. “When they did the CT scan and said that she had a mass or something, it was like, ‘Oh my God, here we go.’”

Hernia Mesh Wadded up Like a ‘Badminton Birdie’

Nancy’s first surgery lasted five and a half hours. When doctors began minimally invasive surgery to repair Nancy’s bowel, they found it wasn’t the scar tissue that was the problem. Instead, multiple pieces of old hernia mesh had adhered to the bowel, causing Patterson’s bowel to kink.

“The mesh had kind of wadded up in a ball, and the doctor referred to it as like a badminton birdie,” Shelly said.

The symptoms Patterson had — nausea, loss of appetite and abdominal pain — are all symptoms of a bowel obstruction caused by adhesions, a known hernia mesh side effect. Bowel obstruction is a medical emergency.

Doctors explained to Shelly that her mother’s bowel was adhered to the mesh, which is supposed to have a nonstick lining on one side to prevent that from happening. The surgeon stated the mesh had started to wad up, and he had to snip some of it to get her bowel unkinked.

Shelly was relieved when doctors found the mesh was the problem and not something worse.

“This was terrible, but it’s easier to fix than if it would have been cancer,” she said. “But we had to get her cleared by cardiologists for surgery because she’s got congestive heart failure that we found in 2017. At that time, her heart was only functioning at 15% and she’s up to 50% now, so the cardiologist cleared her to be able to have this surgery.”

Because of previous surgeries, the surgeon had a difficult time visualizing Patterson’s entire colon while doing surgery laparoscopically, but he removed several pieces of wadded up hernia mesh and thought he was able to remove all of it.

Surgery Number Two

The day after surgery, Patterson had to do a barium swallow. If the liquid made it through her bowel, the test would show that all the mesh had been removed and her bowel was clear.

“Well, of course it didn’t,” said Shelly, dismayed. “So, the doctor knew that there was still something in there. And so, they had to go in and open her completely at that time.”

After finishing the first surgery that lasted several hours and ended at 1:30 a.m. on Sunday, Patterson had to go back in for more invasive surgery on Monday afternoon. This next surgery lasted about two-and-a-half hours.

This time, the surgeon was able to remove the last of the mesh. Because Patterson had lost a significant amount of weight, he was able to use her own tissue for the repair.

“Thank goodness we had gone in when we did,” Shelly said. “Because your colon can only live so long if it’s kinked. It could die, worse yet my mother could have died. The doctor was pretty certain that it was the mesh that caused the whole problem.”

Mesh failure, bowel obstruction and organ perforation are among the injuries claimed in hernia mesh lawsuits.
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Beginning to Heal

Patterson is still recovering from the mesh removal, but her symptoms have completely resolved. She was on parenteral nutrition through a PICC line for three days to heal from the trauma of bowel obstruction. Then, she transitioned to eating a regular diet. She had to wear a wound vac and had some ports for wound drainage.

“It’s been a whirlwind of surgeries,” Shelly said. “I’m trying to get her well and getting her from the hospital to rehab. There’s a lot going on, and I’m an only child, so it’s been a little difficult.”

After the ordeal her mother went through, Shelly thought about filing a hernia mesh lawsuit. She’s still undecided and is researching the specific mesh her mom had originally implanted.

“If anybody has had hernia surgery at all, they should probably be looking out for these kinds of issues that might come up. Even many years later,” Shelly cautions others. “When things start, especially abdominal pain, cramping, nausea, vomiting and being unable to eat, don’t think it’s just a bug. Make sure not to ignore it and get it checked.”

Disclaimer: Thoughts and opinions expressed in this patient story are strictly anecdotal and should not be taken as medical information or advice. Views of the interviewee do not necessarily reflect those of the author, editor or Drugwatch.