Vaginal mesh injury: ‘I really thought I was going to die’

Woman says infections started immediately after mesh was inserted in 2002 to treat urinary incontinence

Mandy Jackson (63), from Wicklow, is starting to get her life back after 19 years of urinary tract infections which she believes were caused by vaginal mesh.

By the time she travelled to St Louis, Missouri last September, to have the mesh fully removed by specialist in women’s pelvic medicine, Dr Dionysius Veronikis, Jackson had been hospitalised with liver damage caused by years of taking antibiotics.

“My general wellbeing was very low,” she says. “I had no energy. I’d have to sit in the chair for an hour or two after I got up every morning.”

Jackson said the infections started immediately after she had mesh inserted in 2002 to treat urinary incontinence.

From 2005 she was repeatedly prescribed antibiotics. She was referred for investigations with urologists, gynaecologists, physiotherapists, and a nutritionist. Urine retention was identified but mesh was never mentioned as a possible cause. “I just took it that there was nothing they could do for me.”

In 2019, a friend mentioned a news item about mesh injury to her. “I went home and Googled. That was where I found out about Mesh Ireland. Mary McLaughlin, who ran it, was the first person who told me about the damage mesh was doing to some women. She also told me about Dr Veronikis who specialised in full mesh removal.”

She asked her consultant urologist about mesh injury. “He said he didn’t believe the mesh was causing the infections. By this stage I really thought I was going to die.”

In July 2020, having attended the Coombe and the National Maternity Hospital, and being told again that the mesh was unlikely to be the cause, Jackson “decided to go to America”.

Her urologist supported her application to the Treatment Abroad Scheme (TAS). In a letter to Dr Veronikis, dated August 23rd last, he states: “[Ms Jackson] has concluded strongly that she wishes to have this [mesh] removed. Unfortunately, there is nobody in the country offering this service at this time”.

She and her husband raised €12,000 and travelled to St Louis. She was turned down by the TAS, on the grounds that she had not exhausted treatment options here and that she had not been referred by an Irish consultant. Though the Ombudsman asked the TAS to reconsider its refusal, it rejected her appeal on the same grounds.

Jackson’s bladder is so badly damaged by the mesh some urine retention persists. However, the infections have stopped.

“The symptoms I still have, they’re not going to kill me. I feel healthier than I have for years.”

She, and Mesh Ireland, are now supporting Margaret Bolger, (48) from Co Wexford. She is in constant pain in her legs, groin and back. She has repeated kidney infections and bleeding. A formerly keen sportswoman, she cannot walk far without pain.

She is convinced her symptoms, which began in 2018, are due to the transobturator tape [TOT mesh] inserted at Wexford General Hospital in 2013. She has since had to give up work that she loved — as a care assistant in a busy nursing home — and her relationship broke down. She has been repeatedly prescribed antibiotics and provided with pessaries — ‘devices’ inserted into the vagina to support prolapsed organs back into place — that have fallen out.

In 2020, her niece drew her attention to the symptoms of mesh injury. “I thought, ‘This is me’.” Though she has asked about this as a possible cause, it has yet to be investigated. At a gynaecology appointment this month she asked again. The doctor has requested her files from Wexford and she awaits another appointment.

“I feel I am hitting a brick wall here. I have so many questions about what is happening in my body. The mesh is obviously broken. I just want it out. I feel so lonely and isolated.”

Bolger would like to travel to have the mesh fully removed but “there is no way I could afford it”. She is hoping to raise funds on a GoFundMe page, saying she does not believe she will ever get the treatment she needs in Ireland.

The HSE would not comment on either individual’s case but said it was “a priority ... that all women experiencing mesh-related complications receive high quality, multidisciplinary and patient-centred care which is in line with international best practice”.