Thursday, February 25, 2010
Medical Reports: Secret Sickness
It's considered a routine surgery hundreds of thousands of people have each year, but some patients who've gone through hernia repair operations believe they are now living with a secret sickness. 7's Craig Stevens has tonight's special assignment report.
WSVN -- When Robert Hopkins moved to Florida, all the heavy lifting during the move left him with a problem.
Robert Hopkins: "Most likely moving boxes and things I got a small inguinal hernia."
Hernia repairs are so routine Robert didn't think the surgery to fix the hole in his abdominal wall was a big deal.
Robert Hopkins: "A simple hernia operation. I thought in today's age it was very simple and perfected."
When Jenny Evans needed hernia surgery, doctors assured her she had no reason to worry.
Jenny Evans: "The surgeon said, 'No problem. It will be a piece of cake.'"
But, soon after their hernia repairs, life changed dramatically for both of them.
Robert Hopkins: "I was in the emergency room eight times from December '07 to about June '08 with pain in my abdomen, pain in my kidneys."
Jenny's pain is so extreme, she's spends most days lying down.
Jenny Evans: "If I had not taken pain medication today, I would not be able to sit here upright."
No one in the medical community seemed to know what was making them sick.
Robert Hopkins: "I sat on the back patio and I asked God to let me go. I couldn't take it any more."
Finally, they started to suspect the foreign object implanted inside them during their hernia surgeries. Both had received synthetic surgical mesh. It looks like window screening and is used to repair hernias.
Robert Hopkins: "I went back and got the surgical report, and found out there was 30 square inches of mesh implanted, along with 38 attachment devices."
In the past doctors used to cut or pull the muscle together to close and repair the hernia. But now, using surgical mesh is the standard treatment.
Dr. Samuel Szomstein, Cleveland Clinic Florida: "About 90 to 100 thousand hernia surgeries are done every year. I would say more than half are done using mesh."
Many doctors say they prefer mesh because the old way of closing up the hernia didn't always last.
Dr. Samuel Szomstein: "We have seen that repair is not as effective. The chances of the hernia coming back goes into between 10 or even 40 to 50 percent."
But, not everyone sees it that way. Lana Keeton started a website called Truth in Medicine. She's pulling together thousands of patients who believe they've suffered complications from the mesh.
Lana Keeton, Truth in Medicine, Founder: "People become pelvic cripples. They can't sit, they can't walk. they can't have sex. They live in excruciating pain."
Lana has lived with that pain for years. She says the mesh left her debilitated after it was implanted in her bladder to help treat urinary incontinence, and once the mesh is used during surgery, it adheres to the body, and is hard to take out.
Lana Keeton: "When you put it in the human body, the tissues scars into the mesh and it's an inflammatory process. It never stops. It's chronic inflammation inside your body.
She's been trying to put pressure on the FDA to get surgical mesh pulled off the market. In 2008, the FDA did release this public health alert about using mesh in women to treat pelvic organ prolapse and stress urinary incontinence.
Citing more than 1,000 reports of complications from nine mesh manufacturers, Lana says the FDA needs to issue that same alert for hernia surgeries.
Lana Keeton: "The public health notification is just a first red flag. What you need to understand is that the shark is still in the water and you better get out. We need it taken off the market."
The FDA told us there are no plans to ban the use of mesh at this time saying, "More than a million people have had surgeries involving the use of mesh," and the "FDA has received very few adverse event reports. "
But for Robert and Jenny, one report of a life changed forever is one too many.
Robert Hopkins: "I'm absolutely furious. How can anyone do this to someone? And then deny that this is happening to me."
Jenny Evans: "I never thought this would change my life. I don't feel like I've survived the mesh surgery."
Lana's group Truth in Medicine is in Washington D.C. right now and is expected to meet with the FDA about mesh in hernia repair on Tuesday.