Hundreds of Australian women enduring debilitating chronic pain after vaginal mesh implant surgery are seeking damages in a Federal Court class action against pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson.
Victorian Shauna Cahill is one of thousands of Australian women who say they suffer constant and severe pain after operations involving a vaginal mesh implant to treat pelvic organ prolapse (POP) – damage to the pelvic floor, usually caused by childbirth.
The 35-year-old mother of two is now confined to a wheelchair on what she describes as a “good day”. That’s when she feels up to getting out of bed and leaving the house.
“I wet myself daily and have recurring infections because my body’s trying to reject it [the mesh],” Ms Cahill said.
Shine Lawyers, the firm behind the lawsuit which commenced on Tuesday, said as many as 8000 Australian women are thought to have been impacted by life-altering symptoms after such surgery, with at least 700 having used Johnson & Johnson products.
However, it is estimated elsewhere that up to 30,000 Australians may be suffering complications as a result of a vaginal mesh implant.
The legal action has come after more than 100,000 women sought similar compensation in the United States, with similar moves taken in the UK and Canada.
Meanwhile, in Scotland there has been a call for the mesh to be banned.
A prolapse occurs when the walls of the vagina weaken and collapse inwards or outwards causing pain or discomfort for up to 50 per cent of women who have had children.
College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists president Stephen Robson told The New Daily that according to US figures, about one in six women with POP choose to have surgery to treat severe symptoms.
During proceedings on Tuesday, Barrister Tony Bannon quoted an internal email from French doctor Bernard Jacquetin, running a clinical trial for the manufacturer, who allegedly wrote: “I wouldn’t like my wife to undergo this procedure.”
Shine lawyer Rebecca Jancauskas said side effects included the mesh (or tape) eroding through and into surrounding tissue and organs, as well as incontinence, infection and chronic pain.
She said some of these implants were still available on the market.
‘I can’t play with my kids’
Ms Cahill said she was diagnosed with POP in late 2015 and was not made aware the repair surgery involved mesh.
“On a bad day I lay on the couch and my children [aged eight and 10] bring me some water, heat packs or my pain medication – things that a mum should be doing for her own kids,” she told The New Daily.
“On a good day, they take me to and from the toilet and help lift me in and out of the car. I don’t know what I would do without them.
“I can’t play with my children, (or) ride bikes with them.
I used to go to the gym up to six times a week and now I can’t even walk around the block.
Ms Cahill, who has since launched a Facebook page, hopes that with more awareness, women can make a more informed decision about whether to use mesh.
Johnson & Johnson has sold more than 100,000 mesh products in Australia but says that does not equate to the number of women allegedly affected.
A company spokeswoman told The New Daily the “majority” of women who have had surgical treatment with mesh for POP or SUI have a “good long-term result“.
Hearings are expected to run for about six months.
– with AAP