After having four babies in five years, Dawn Martin, like many thousands of women, began to suffer stress incontinence as she got older.
It was acutely embarrassing to leak every time she coughed or sneezed and buying incontinence pads was humiliating.
Desperate to sort the problem out she agreed to have a procedure called TVT – where a tape is attached underneath the bladder to strengthen it. A decision she says was ‘the worst mistake I have ever made’.
Dawn, a 53-year-old nurse practitioner, is one of thousands of women to have suffered complications following Tension-free Vaginal Tape.
Although many have the procedure and suffer no ill-effects afterwards, Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer recently wrote to health boards requesting they consider suspending routine use of synthetic mesh for these procedures until the outcome of an independent review is known.
In England, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency still supports the procedure.
It was like being cut with a cheese wire through my bladder and pubic areaDawn Martin
Dawn, of Park Avenue, Waterlooville, explains how her problems began: ‘In five years I had four big babies – my biggest was 10lbs.
‘I was in my 20s and even though I was a trained nurse but I didn’t listen to much about physiotherapy and pelvic floor exercises.
‘I wish I had because it supports your bladder and your back. You need to keep them strong.’
Dawn admits seeing TVT as a ‘quick fix’ and, although she put off having the operation for six months to see if pelvic floor exercises would help, her partner fell ill and she did not get round to doing them.
She says: ‘But I didn’t do any research. Frankly, it was the worst mistake of my life.’
The day surgery involves inserting a long piece of thin mesh vaginally to hold up the sides of the bladder to make it stronger.
But as soon as Dawn came round from the operation, in March last year, she knew something was wrong.
She says: ‘I was panic-stricken. ‘The pain was just unbearable. I had a total inability to pass urine. I had to rock back and forth on the toilet to get a tiny bit out.
‘I told the doctors but they said it was just down to inflammation and it would settle down.
‘But it didn’t. There is a two week window after the operation where the tape can be loosened but instead they offered me a scan to check for clots.’
Unfortunately the date for the scan was four weeks after the operation – too late for corrective surgery.
For the next four months Dawn had to self-catheterise to go to toilet.
It involves inserting a tube into her urethra which caused constant severe urinary tract infections.
‘I lived on antibiotics’ she says. ‘I have no issues with the urogynaecologists. Since it’s gone wrong they could not have done more for me.
‘The problem is they can put it (TVT) in but there’s so few people who can take it out.
‘My urogynaecologist did everything they could to help me.’
After persuading doctors that something had to be done, Dawn was offered a partial removal of the mesh. But when she was anaesthetised the anaesthetic reacted with the strong painkillers she was on and she went into respiratory arrest.
She says: ‘I woke up in ITU with nine people around the me and tubes absolutely everywhere. I was told there had been a big problem and they had not been able to do the surgery.
‘Despite everything that had happened, it was the worst thing they could have said to me. I was so desperate for the operation.’
It was eventually carried out in July this year and a small part was removed.
It gave Dawn temporary relief but excruciating pain soon returned.
She says: ‘It was like being cut with a cheese wire through my bladder and pubic area. My inner thighs were agony because my pudendal nerve was being irritated. Again, I had constant urinary tract infections.
‘I had spasms through my urethra and going to the toilet was toe-curlingly painful. It reduced me to an emotional wreck. Life as I knew it had been destroyed.’
To cope with the pain Dawn had anti-inflammatory injections in her pubic area and a pain relief and infection-fighting solution inserted directly into her bladder, weekly.
Eventually, doctors agreed that Dawn could have the TVT removed, which she did on October 1 at John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford.
Although many surgeons are qualified to insert the tape only two in England can remove it.
She says: ‘It is not designed to come out. It’s a permanent fixture. Removing it is a big operation with lots of risks. It could cause long-term, permanent damage and I won’t know for 12 to 18 months if I will have normality back.
‘But when they finally agreed I felt sheer relief. I’ve been cured by default. The mesh was so tight I have thick scar tissue where it was and I’m not incontinent any more.
‘But, looking back, I would 100 per cent have rather been stress incontinent. I would have invested in Tena Lady and I would have gone to physio and worked much harder at my pelvic floor exercises.’ The campaign to ban the procedure - slingthemesh.wordpress.com.