Woman speaks out about routine operation which left her disabled: ‘I joked that this operation would make me feel like a new woman. It has. It left me in a wheelchair.’
PUBLISHED: 13:37 18 April 2017 | UPDATED: 15:21 18 April 2017
A Norfolk woman left in a wheelchair after what she was told was a routine operation has spoken out about her ordeal on national television.
Lisa Woodrow, from Thetford, was one of around 13,000 women a year who went under the knife to cure incontinence or pelvic organ prolapse, a problem that can often be caused by natural childbirth, especially if women have had big babies.
But the device used, known as a TVT mesh sling, has been fraught with controversy with then-health minister Alex Neil suspending its use in Scotland in 2015.
It was re-instated in March this year, amid claims of a whitewash independent inquiry.
In Australia some of the products were de-registered, while in the USA and Canada around 100,000 lawsuits have been filed from women who have suffered permanent disabilities.
Mrs Woodrow, 53, said: “I joked that this operation would make me feel like a new woman. It has. It left me in a wheelchair for 18 months where I couldn’t walk.
“Now I’ve had the mesh removed my legs shake badly and I need a stick to support me.”
Mrs Woodrow had the TVT mesh inserted in November 2012 to fix a problem of uterus prolapse and mild incontinence after ventouse childbirth to her two sons, now 30 and 32.
Immediately after the operation, she said she found using the toilet difficult, had recurrent water infections and for several months found sitting without cushions difficult.
Mrs Woodrow’s relationships were affected too and she split from her partner as a result of complications with mesh.
After the operation Mrs Woodrow raised her concerns at a three-month check up, where she saw a nurse instead of her consultant.
But she was told the operation had been a success.
“I was told the pain was scar tissue and that it could take a long time to heal,” she said.
“I started to get spasms in my legs, and saw a neurologist as they wanted to rule out MS. I was given the all clear. But still got spasms, then started to get a pain radiating through by hip/groin area.”
By the time it got to May 2015 things got worse.
“I woke after a restless night with pain but when I went to get out of bed, I couldn’t stand,” Mrs Woodrow said.
After six weeks in hospital, Mrs Woodrow was told she had slipped a disk or that her lower spine had narrowed, but both have since been proved incorrect.
“When I tried to walk, my legs shook. I begged my doctors to refer me to a gynaecologist that specialised in mesh, but this proved difficult.”
Finally, in February 2016 Mrs Woodrow saw removal specialist Dr Sohier Elneil in London and was told her mesh had eroded as it had been incorrectly inserted.
“Since having it removed, my legs feel like they have been freed and I can now sit comfortably, but the nerve pain can keep me in bed for days,” she said.
But the trauma was not over for Mrs Woodrow, who still needs a stick to walk and has to use her wheelchair for longer distances.
“I am now waiting for further surgery to remove further mesh from behind my pubic bone, and then have a colposuspension – the traditional surgical fix – as I am now fully incontinent,” she added.
“Training of GPs and hospital doctors and nurses in mesh complication awareness is a must.”
Mrs Woodrow is part of a campaign called Sling the Mesh, started by journalist Kath Sansom. She also had the mesh implant in March 2015, but since has had it removed due to the complications.
The campaign is calling for the procedure to be suspended right across the UK.
Mother-of-two Mrs Sansom said: “A lot of mainstream media have been afraid to cover the issue as it involves what they see as an embarrassing women’s health issue of incontinence and prolapse, often caused by natural childbirth or menopause.
“However this is a story of personal tragedy for thousands of women whose lives have been devastated after they went for what they were told was a simple surgery, only to have their health ruined in just 20 minutes.
Mrs Woodrow’s father spotted Mrs Sansom on TV, and prompted his daughter to get in contact.
She added: “If it hadn’t been for that and me then finding the support of the women on the Facebook group, I don’t believe I would ever have got the operation that I so needed.
“Because of how I was treated by my GP, in particular, I almost started to believe the pain may indeed, be in my head.
“I’ve gone from loving dancing, doing karate, swimming, long walks to a shell of the woman I once was. I had to give up my successful business supplying hotels with accessories, sell my house and now live in rented accommodation on benefits. I’m registered disabled.
“I have gone from being an outward, social, high flying professional, in a relationship to a broken woman. I’ve had to learn to walk again with a heel-toe step. The pain is so bad I’m on the highest dose of daily pain relieving drugs, I’m a legal drug addict.
“That’s the new woman I am and the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) still say the benefits outweigh the risks.”
“I was a fun loving party girl before a TVT mesh implant robbed me of the life I once knew.”
An MHRA spokesperson said: “Patient safety is our highest priority and we sympathise with women who have suffered complications after surgery.
“We are committed to help address the serious concerns raised by some patients. We have undertaken a great deal of work to continuously assess findings of studies undertaken by the clinical community over many years, as well as considering the feedback from all sources in that time. What we have seen, and continue to see, is that the greater proportion of the clinical community and patients support the use of these devices in the UK for treatment of the distressing conditions of incontinence and organ prolapse.
“We encourage anyone who suspects they have had a complication after having a mesh device implanted, to discuss this with their clinician and report to us via the Yellow Card scheme regardless of how long ago the implant was inserted.”
The region’s hospitals have been contacted for comment.
For more information on Sling the Mesh, visit www.slingthemesh.wordpress.com