During Part One of a special two-part episode of Drugwatch Podcast, Christy Hammond shares her harrowing experience with transvaginal mesh, her opinions on lawsuits and the fact that she was never told about the life-changing complications that she would face.
Transvaginal mesh, a synthetic, porous material, is used to treat conditions like sagging organs (pelvic organ prolapse) or when the bladder leaks (stress urinary incontinence). It is called “transvaginal” because of the surgical procedure used to implant the mesh through the vagina – a procedure that was supposed to be less invasive than going through the abdomen.
Typically, mesh is an issue that older women deal with, but Christy was only 30 when her doctor recommended a bladder sling to prevent future incontinence. In the years that would follow, Christy would endure emotional and physical pain, isolation and fear about what was going on inside her body.
She said that she never even thought it could be the bladder sling because no doctor ever mentioned it being a problem. In fact, she didn’t even know what transvaginal mesh was.
“I was never given any information about any potential dangers. In fact, it was as if this surgery would be no big deal at all and my bladder would just be lifted and sitting in this little hammock-like sling,” Christy said. “No mention of the word mesh, and no mention, period, of what product would be implanted inside of me. I was young, and I trusted what was being said to me. I had no reason to doubt that I would be anything but perfectly pleased with this decision.”
However, once the recovery period from the hysterectomy was over, Christy began to realize that something was terribly wrong.
She said, “The symptoms were hard to describe to myself, let alone a doctor. When I mentioned my strange pains, like how my right side would just jolt me throughout the day, enough that I would gasp and hold my side for fear of what could be going on, my lower pelvic area was as if on fire.”
Christy went from doctor to doctor looking for answers, but none of the experts she saw could tell her what was wrong. She began to doubt her sanity, and in the meantime, her symptoms were making life practically unbearable. Her instinct told her that there was something wrong, but she couldn’t begin to fathom what it was.
“These pains that I suffered from were so intense that I would cry on a daily basis. I really started questioning my sanity,” she shared. “I felt that these doctors were missing something big, and that I would just end up dead from whatever it was.”
While Christy was going through this mystery condition, it also affected her husband and children, who could do little but watch her suffer.
Like other women suffering from the complications of mesh, Christy’s quality of life deteriorated. She couldn’t enjoy life or the company of her husband and children, and they lost time with her too.
When she wasn’t working, she was in bed.
Each day, the pain and strange symptoms held her hostage.
“I would have zero energy to do much else. I would have to lay down the moment I got home, and I missed so many activities with my children simply because of my pain,” she said. “I was afraid to go on boats, rides at the fair, anything that would jolt me around for fear of whatever this was, possibly getting worse.”
Her husband and children often had to do things without her because she had no energy to enjoy anything outdoors with them.
“It’s time … I will never get back, and that’s what hurts the most,” she said.
Even though none of this was her fault, Christy still sometimes feels guilty.
Many women who face mesh complications struggle with the lost intimacy between them and their significant other. With symptoms like vaginal nerve damage and painful intercourse, the problems are deeply personal and often too taboo to even speak of.
In fact, it isn’t uncommon for husbands or boyfriends to simply leave.
When Christy thinks of how she and her husband made it through the ordeal, she finds it difficult to even talk about.
“We’re still young, in my opinion,” she said. “This isn’t something we should be dealing with, you know? But I will say I am a very lucky girl to have such a patient and understanding man in my life, who loves me for who I am and [doesn’t let] what has happened to me lessen his love.”
Despite her husband’s assurances that he will never leave, it weighs on her.
Christy slowly resigned herself to trying to live with the debilitating problems. She was never one to complain or make too much of a fuss, no matter how bad it got.
Then, hope came from one of the most unlikely places: A television commercial.
Initially, it was Christy’s husband who saw an attorney’s commercial with the words “bladder sling” and a host of symptoms that Christy suffered from. She heard the words “transvaginal mesh,” however, and recoiled at the idea.
“My response that day was, ‘That sounds like a dang disease. That isn’t what I have!’ I had just never heard the word ‘mesh’ before,” she said.
But a week later, the commercial came on again, and this time, she paid attention. When she saw all her “alien-like” symptoms listed, it was a “ground-breaking moment.” She couldn’t wait to call a doctor and finally get some help.
In her eyes, that commercial was a godsend.
However, when she began calling around, she soon realized that when she mentioned the words “transvaginal mesh” doctors’ offices would practically hang up on her. In the end, she called an attorney because she realized that the problems with mesh were bigger than she imagined.
She ended up filing a lawsuit against C.R. Bard, the manufacturer of her mesh implant. But it wasn’t about the money, she said, it was about getting the treatment and help she needed.
After filing suit, she found a specialist and had most of the mesh removed. She still suffers from permanent damage to nerves and tissues, but she wants people to know that life must go on.
She founded SurvivingMESH to share her story and offer a place for other women to find support. It also helped her heal, and the realization that she isn’t alone in this ordeal has been life-changing for her.
“I’m proud to be a voice for mesh,” Christy said.
Christy’s attorney, Karen Beyea-Schroeder, also joined us on this episode to explain transvaginal mesh lawsuits. She started following the problems with mesh even before the FDA released a warning about complications from mesh in 2011.
Beyea-Schroeder said the suits against mesh companies claim these products are defective because of the complications they cause.
She also shares how these complications changed the lives of many of the women she represents.
Join us again next week, for Part II of this podcast featuring Christy Hammond and attorney Karen Beyea-Schroeder.
Michelle Y. Llamas is a senior content writer and researcher for Drugwatch. She is also the host of the Drugwatch Podcast where she talks to patients, experts and advocates about drugs, medical devices and health. She uses her technical writing experience to provide easy-to-understand information on how drugs and devices work. But she also tells people what happens when products that are supposed to improve their lives can hurt them.
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