When surgical mesh first came onto the market back in the 1990s, medical device manufacturers touted it as a faster and simpler method for treating conditions such as pelvic organ prolapse and later, hernia repair. It was a minimally-invasive procedure that could be performed quickly and, most importantly, inexpensively.

Of course, we have learned that what is cheap and easy for surgeons and hospitals has proven to be very costly to patients, who have wound up suffering chronic pain and disabling injuries due to these products. Despite this, however, there are doctors who continue to insist that the surgical mesh is a viable medical tool.

One of them is a Toronto-based urogynecologist, Dr. Colleen McDermott. Although the dangers of surgical mesh have been known since the FDA published the first safety warning in 2008 and a wave of lawsuits have been filed against manufacturers as well as hospitals and doctors, Dr. McDermott says most of her patients have been happy with the results. In a recent interview on Canadian television, she said the fault is with doctors who have neither the skill nor the experience to work with surgical mesh:

Companies that were producing these devices were targeting the generalists to do them and inviting them down to do these 3 or 4 day courses somewhere nice and learn how to do them. And then these physicians were going back to their practice and doing a lot of them because they’re quick, can have an easy patient turnover, usually patients go home the same day…you can’t learn how to do these procedures in four days.”

McDermott herself spent three years in training on learning how to use surgical mesh. She adds that although she reviews other options with her patients, many of those are too costly for her patients. She also makes certain that such patients are not at higher risk because of other conditions such as autoimmune disease.

Another advocate for surgical mesh is Dr. David Urbach, chief surgeon at Toronto’s Women’s College Hospital. He told CTV news that he employs surgical mesh for all his hernia patients, expressing the opinion that complications happen only about 1 or 2 percent of the time.

The problem is that when 100,000 of these procedures are done every year, as many as 2,000 patients wind up suffering debilitating injuries.

The fact remains that surgical mesh is prone to shrinkage and erosion. These devices can fall apart and grow into surrounding tissues and into nearby organs, making them extremely difficult to remove – and even if removal is successful, the health consequences can last a lifetime.

Even if doctors such as McDermott and Urbach have been successful with these devices, it is becoming clear that the manufacturers placed profits above human health and safety. Regardless of whether it is because of defects inherent in the product, the promotion of these devices to doctors who are unqualified and insufficiently trained to use them or both, surgical mesh is causing severe injuries – and someone needs to be held accountable. 

SHARE
K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.