Mesh Repair for Vaginal Prolapse – When Things go Wrong

Mesh repair for vaginal prolapseMesh repair for vaginal prolapse is a commonly performed surgical procedure…

And while many women undergo successful mesh repair surgery, unfortunately mesh repair is not always without potential risks and complications.

Complications of mesh repair can include painful intercourse, pelvic infection, bleeding and erosion when the mesh protrudes through the wall of the vagina. At times the mesh can be very difficult to remove owing to scar tissue and the woman’s own tissues growing through the mesh during the repair process.

This personal account of failed mesh repair was sent to us by one of our readers, Linda who has kindly given us permission to print her story.

Linda was keen to share her mesh repair experience with other women in the hope of helping them avoid a hasty decision to undergo vaginal mesh repair. Linda’s honest and moving account highlights the physical and emotional impact that failed vaginal repair surgery can have on a woman. It also demonstrates the importance of pelvic floor exercise, being fully informed and understanding the potential risks associated with vaginal mesh surgery before entering into it.

Please note before reading:

Most women having mesh repair prolapse surgery do not experience complicated outcomes such as the one described below. The following letter has not been published in an attempt to alarm or create fear. It has been published for the purposes of assisting women to make fully informed decisions about their pelvic health, and also for information and support for those women who do experience mesh erosion to know that they are not alone in their experiences. Pelvic Exercises welcomes positive accounts of mesh repair to publish to reassure women and provide a balance to the following account. Please do not hesitate to send us your positive experience following mesh repair.

Linda writes…I’m a working lady. I am fifty years old. I have now had surgery five times now to fix my pelvic floor problem. Two to put mesh slings in, and three to remove the mesh. Here is my story…

Between 2005 to this day, a new procedure came out (slings and mesh repair) and doctors were keen to do these procedures. Women like me believed that it was the answer to our pelvic floor problems. Some doctors were keen to advise me that mesh repair was the answer to my problem but did not promote pelvic floor exercise as a first option.

My first experience of finding out something was wrong 24 weeks after my vaginal mesh repair was the tightening pelvic pain, bleeding and vaginal discharge.

I presented at the Emergency Department and they told me I had mesh erosion and I needed to go back to the surgeon who put the mesh in to get it removed, because he knew where he had positioned it. I then had surgery to remove all the mesh – another six weeks off work.

Six months later I was experiencing pelvic pain again. I was then told that only part of the mesh had been removed. I was furious. I lost faith in my specialist and depression hit like a ton of bricks.

What started next was a frustrating 18 months of trying to find a surgeon to remove the rest of the mesh and everyone kept saying my situation was complicated…great.

To find a doctor to remove the mesh became extremely frustrating and humiliating. I was accused of doctor shopping. I kept going backwards and forwards to surgeons to seek what information I could and because of this I became classed as this ‘mad woman’ in their eyes.

This caused me an awful lot of stress, depression, time and a lot of money in seeing specialists. What my children and husband saw was a strong independent woman fall to pieces.They had no idea why their mother was experiencing depression…they were my backbone in all of this. I love them all. xxxx

After 18 months I found two surgeons, two wonderful surgeons and I thank them with all my heart. It was a very complicated procedure – easy to put in, but very hard to remove. I now feel A MILLION TIMES better with the vaginal mesh out. It gave me pelvic pain, infection after infection, irritation after irritation; I had no choice to get it out. Yes I leak a little, no more than I did in the first place. I’m hoping with time my pelvic floor exercises will help to make my pelvic floor muscles stronger and I will use the Contiform to help stop the leakage when I need to. I still have a way to go to heal and continue to build my pelvic floor exercises which I know work over time.

I know there will be good days and bad days, but having the mesh in was a bad day every day. You know when you get a splinter and it becomes sore because your body is trying to get rid of it. It was a foreign body and my body didn’t like it, causing irritation, infection after infection and more than anything else… extreme pain. The surgeon explained the mesh had rolled up on its self – like getting a shoe lace at each end and turning it round and around, causing tightness.

I was also accused of having the pain implanted on my brain, but now I have no pain for the first time in three years. I asked my surgeons after surgery if I had been making that pelvic pain up. They said from what they saw and the way the mesh had positioned itself, there was no way I was imaging it. That’s when they told me about the shoelace.

I can only speak about my own issue, but I am aware of so many women trying to find a doctor to remove their mesh. What I can do is shout from the roof tops to consider all your options before surgery and do your pelvic floor exercises and keep them going under the guidance of a professional physiotherapist. Be patient because your pelvic floor muscles take time to build. Do not go for the quick fix like I did!

After things had gone so terrible wrong I started to research and it is with your website, good books and pelvic floor instructions along with going to a knowledgeable physiotherapist. I am now on my way to some form of recovery.

My story is painful to read, but true. I have told myself it’s not pleasant to have this everyday and at times with bad days, anxiety takes over, I try and tell myself it’s not life threatening either.

I hope this will help many women to read and gain knowledge, before making any decisions about mesh repair and sling surgery.

Thanks for reading my story

All the best Linda

If you suffer from undiagnosed pelvic pain after pelvic surgery you are advised to contact your treating specialist. If you suffer from pelvic floor dysfunction associated with mesh repair surgery, a physiotherapist trained in continence and women’s health may be able to assist with your recovery. To find a women’s health physiotherapist contact The Australian Physiotherapy Association or The Continence Foundation of Australia.

Inside Out Book & DVDABOUT THE AUTHOR, Michelle Kenway

Michelle Kenway is a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist and author of Inside Out – the Essential Women’s Guide to Pelvic Support, along with Dr Judith Goh Urogynaecologist. The Inside Out exercise DVD and book show women how to strengthen the pelvic floor and exercise effectively with pelvic floor safe exercises.

Comments

  1. What an inspirational story! It’s a great message for all women out there about the importance of pelvic floor exercises. I first read about pelvic floors in a teenage magazine that promoted their great sexual benefits – but they are not trivial exercises in any way!
    Whether you’ve had three kids or you’re a young developing girl, pelvic floors are vital for muscle stability and as a preventative to surgery in later life! This is a great lesson from not just one, but many women who have suffered because of unnecessary surgery.

    It only takes one visit to your local Physio and a few exercises a week to prevent future incontinence and embarrassment in later years. My heart goes out to those who’ve suffered! Thank you for your story, Linda! xo xo

    • Hi Sarah
      You are absolutely correct about the importance of pelvic floor exercises for women of all ages!
      Thank you
      Michelle

  2. I very important account Linda, and one that will add to the information that women need. Honest accounts like this are too rare, Gutsy and well written article.

    • Hi Ernest
      I agree completely. It takes alot of courage to tell a story such as this, to have to revisit it in the telling is a very challenging task. We can learn alot from Linda’s honest account. Thank you so much for your comment. Michelle

  3. hi, i can only agree, when i stumbled on Michelle’s website i thought i had won the lottery, the knowledge it has given me to make informed decisions about a second round of surgery was invaluable and empowering.

    • Hi Eve
      I am so glad to have helped you out.
      Thanks so much for taking the time to let me know, I really appreciate your feedback!
      Michelle

  4. Thank you so much Linda for writing with frankness and in my case, timeliness.  
    After more than a year of going around in circles – seeing two Gynaecologists,  writing to two more (i live in a relatively remote area) I now find myself being herded towards a pelvic repair operation using mesh!
    I can totally relate to your feelings of being categorised as a "mad" woman as well as a  "dr shopping" type.  In my attempts to be "interested", "proactive" and "collaborative" with my specialist – asking questions, writing things down and seeking information from sources other than the doctor I am seeing (and thank goodness because the amount of information he exchanged with me was piecemeal) I feel he has more or less given up on me and is on some level threatened my my wish to "have a say" in the treatment I receive.
    Pelvic exercises, totally recommended for all, aren't enough (on their own)  to fix my problem it seems. 
    Although I am committed to seeing this through to the end,  hopefully with a fabulous result that will see me return to my former relatively fit and happy self, I definitely prefer a procedure that does not involve mesh AND that will lead to a long lasting repair. I keep getting told that procedures that don't use mesh won't  last!.  However, my resolve sometimes wavers and think – "oh just do SOMETHING".  So your letter has reminded me to stick with my deep felt instinct and avoid mesh. Whilst I appreciate it is OK for many, my experience for three months with a vaginal ring pessary saw my body working hard to "reject" it by way of  continuous thrush infections. This makes me feel that it is entirely possible that my body will do the same with a mesh implant.  The experiment with the pessary was perhaps a  "preview' so to speak.  
    I think in the world of gynaecological issues/treatment/surgery, most women feel unable to freely discuss what is occurring. It's kind of a cultural "taboo" that we don't talk about "down there".  It's a deeply personal and vulnerable space and place – physically and emotionally. I've been grieving and quite depressed alongside all of this occurring. And my audience for discussing it seems to be quite limited.  Surprisingly, many women friends are uncomfortable knowing this stuff.  I have found myself sharing and then apologising for doing so many times!  And yet, I wish someone had shared this stuff with me when I was younger. In which case I think I would  have paid more attention to pelvic floor exercises – starting them earlier and doing them more effectively perhaps!?  Being a widowed, unpartnered, empty nester probably makes me feek so uncertain as to my sexual future.  Memories of joyful intimate past encounters spiral me down to a place where I start to believe that this may end up being a thing of the past!  And yet at 48 I don't feel ready to be an "old maid" in the intimate sphere….
    At  no stage have any of my Gynaecologists broached the emotional havoc this condition has led me to be in. 
    On a positive note (sorry i got a bit glum in the last paragraph!) I'm so grateful to sites such as this one where we can share information and express our feelings.  
    Again – thank you Linda for sharing.
     
     

  5. Hello Jo, I was only 45 myself when i first knew that there was something wrong and i needed drastic help. Like my story  says i was advised mesh was the only thing that would help…..I didn't know any better either. I have since had all my mesh removed and i feel so much better, I don't have infections, no more antibiotics, I pee fast again, i empty properly and most of all no pain….yes i still leak a little when my bladder is full. I have come to accept this for the time being as my pelvic floors still need training. Some days are better than others……I can't advise you what to do but i would like to suggest a contiform and possibly a kegal 8 machine…all are available on Michell's web site. I have only been a few months out of surgery and i know it took me a long time (over a year) from my first surgery to get my pelvic floors back into shape. I know things will never be the same and i too wish that someone had advised me when i was young…… I use a 'contiform' when i go out, when i do sport, or when i dance…It fits well and helps a lot. I know i will never be over my issue but i have reduced my leakage to a point i am happy in my life and like i said i do have good and bad days….i keep pressing on with my pelvic floors and i do see changes each week. I have noticed that stress and anxiety trigger me off.  I  do a relaxation C.D each night to help me get over this…These are all on Michelle's website.  What  i did notice was when i did find a good doc (well two actually) i felt so much better…If Doctors have stopped listening to you Jo, find one that will…Or in my case, a good Physio as well…You are perfectly in your own right to search, speak, and look for items that are going to help. I am still finding things that help me and things that don't..It's a process of elimination and it will be ongoing….. I can only tell you that chatting to my friends, work mates,  and anyone who would listen has gained valuable insight for me ad them. For me is to acknowledge i'm not alone and for them to start doing their pelvic floors is a good thing.. Most important make sure you are doing them  correctly.
    i have a saying…. "We need come out the closet, talking is the only way of getting the message out" funny that the gay society use the same message.
    I'm going to end by telling you what i have done recently. I went to my G.p who advised me to see the surgeon that put the mesh in five years ago. I explained my case of 5 years. This consisted of 5 procedures all requiring 6 weeks off work which used up all my annual leave, sick leave and time off without pay.. i had two procedures to put mesh in and three to remove it, bit by bit. I wanted him to be aware of my troubles and for him to have an understanding as to what i had been through. I wanted him to encouraging women to spend at least a year attending a specialist Physio  before  surgical intervention. My G,p told me to go back to the surgeon who put the mesh in and explain my troubles. So I did, and i got an apology, an examination, a scan, and a explanation as to why things had gone wrong. He finally stated that they use less mesh now and are  going back to an old procedure called birch. Still not convinced surgical intervention is necessary without giving pelvic floor at least 2 years training no matter what age. ….There are hundreds of cases like mine on the web concerning mesh removal and/or have been advised incorrectly. good luck, and all the best Jo…Linda xxxx

  6. I just wanted to share my story with you all. I had tvt sling put in in September 2011 and immediately had problems. It was adjusted four days later but was not right. After 3 months of intense pain I have just had the whole tape removed by a wonderful surgeon. She has made a little ‘buttress’ of my own tissue that sits under my urethra and gives gentle support. So far so good. All the bad pain has gone and I am only 4 days post-op. I know I have been very lucky. I now feel able to recover and go back to work. In the next 8 weeks I am hoping to get strong and begin pelvic floor excercises to reduce the stress incontinence that led to the tape in the first place. Leakage can often be managed, I know it is taboo but that is what leads to people having surgery. For some the surgery seems to work but for others the pain is dreadful and leads to a real reduction in quality of life. Then if you don’t find a doctor who will listen life becomes even more difficult. People can’t see pain…

    • Hi Jackie

      Thanks so much for your contribution. Wishing you all the best for your full recovery.

      Michelle

  7. I had the mesh put in six years ago. I had pain right away. I just had a doctor try to fix the sling. it can't be removed.
    I have not been able to sit for six years. I have daily pain it never goes away. Do not have this surgery done. If I can save one person this pain it will be worth it.

  8. I have suffered terrible debilitating back and pelvic pain for about six years.  I have had a multitude of MRI's, Xrays, bone scans etc and seen numerous pain specialists but there seems to be "nothing" wrong with me!!  I take extremely high doses of pain medication every single day just to get through and be a mother to my four children.   I have often wondered if the bladder sling I had "installed" in 2006 could have anything to do with my problems but didn't get around to looking on the internet until tonight.  I am flabbergasted!  Lawsuits, FDA withdrawals, class actions and so many stories that sound just like me!  I am getting this stuff removed ASAP!  Does anyone know of a legal firm in Australia who are involved with this?  As a solo mother and full time student (3rd year nursing), I am not in a financial position to quickly get this attended to.  Its crazy but I only had a very minor leakage problem in the first place.  I am certain that diligent pelvic floor excercises could have cured my problem and saved me from this suffering which has sometimes had me suicidal!

    • Pain after pelvic floor repair surgery

      Hi Kylie

      Thank you for your comment regarding this issue. My apologies I am unable to assist you with medico-legal aspects regarding mesh repair.

      My comment is to suggest that if you do in fact link your pain to your surgery that you seek a review with the medical specialist that performed the surgery as he/she will have the details of your surgery and should be able to perform a review for you.

      The question I do have is to ask whether you have been referred to or considered seeking the assessment of a trained pelvic floor physiotherapist? Sometimes women present postoperatively following pelvic surgery with pelvic pain that can be addressed with pelvic floor physiotherapy. For example if the cause of your pain were to be something like increased pelvic floor muscle tension, then the situation could be made worse with repeat surgery. This may or may not be the solution to your issue however it is an avenue worth pursuing with undiagnosed pelvic pain, as this condition can be poorly diagnosed at times.

      I do completely understand and sympathise with your distress with repeated specialist reviews that seem to have been proven to be fruitless to date. Before even considering any surgery, know exactly what you are dealing with and the potential risks and benefits.

      I hope this information helps give you some positive direction Kylie.

      Michelle

  9. Just found this web site and even tho I live in the UK it has been more informative than most others I have seen.  I had major back injury three months ago and have ended up with a prolapse and have been trying not to have an operation.  I have always been very fit and am on my way back to that level and feel much better knowing that there are alternatives to surgery and shall pester the doctors until I get the treatment that,s best for me not the hysterectomy option that,s dealt out with alarming regularity!
    The Pilates exercises were helpful as I use a reformer.
    Thank you.

    • Hi Jacks,

      Thanks so much for your feedback. I am glad our information has been helpful for you.

      Best of luck,
      Michelle.

  10. How did you find a surgeon to take out your mesh. I have had three to correct my mesh and it still hurts during intercourse!!

  11. Annette says:

    Wow, so pleased I have read the previous peoples comments, I have an appt booked to see a doctor about my lack of pelvic floor, this has affected my life somewhat, I cannot run etc, whereas before I used to enjoy jogging for fitness, I think I might try the Kegel8 and Contiform and hope they will help, I was seeing a physio, and doing excercises, but my pelvic floor was only getting to a certain level, never enough to go for a jog which I loved to do. A huge Thank you to the women that have posted their experiences on here.x

  12. I am 54 years ols and I have just been diagnosed with Uterine and bladder prolapse. I am very overweight and need to loose weight, but it’s hard to walk with a heel spur/plantar fascitis. I have begin doing kegels everyday now.. My bladder is causing urgency problems now and I hope it helps. My uterus seems to hang half way down my vagina and I havn’t had sex in 6 months. I need a hysterectomy, but I’m afriaid that will make things worse. What if my vagina come detatched and drops down? What if I dry all up and have vaginal pain? I’m in the midst of perimenopause/menopause right now, 3 periods in one year. I’m afraid of having forgien things i my body to hold up my bladder and vagina.

    Here is my suggestion doctors make supposrtive tissues for my bladder, vagina etc. with my own body parts? Can a firm wall of tissue be constructed from my removed uterus or some muscle or cartilidge tissue?

    • Michelle Kenway says:

      Hi Lorraine

      Great that you are doing your kegels – and yes try to get your weight under control (overweight is an identified cause of prolapse, especially abdominal adiposity or fat around the abdominal organs which loads the pelvic floor).

      These days with a hysterectomy specialists do a special stitch to hitch the top of the vagina up to the back of the pelvis, previously they did not do this which is perhaps one reason why some women had prolapse after hysterectomy.

      If you are concerned about vaginal dryness consider speaking with your about the possibility of using vaginal oestrogen or alternatively there are some great vaginal moisturisers that are water based on the market which help to avoid the problems associated with vaginal dryness.

      In terms of your surgery, your specialist will have particular surgical techniques and materials he/she likes to work with for prolapse repairs. Your specialist is the best person to tell you about his/her success rates using his/her chosen techniques, and this will differ from surgeon to surgeon. Good idea to ask your doctor about the possible risks associated with the chosen techniques to help you become as informed as possible to help you make your decision about prolapse surgery.

      I do hope this information helps you a little Lorraine,
      Best of luck
      Michelle

  13. Hi

    I am currently going through the same issues and cannot find a doctor to remove this. Please let me in on the two that helped you?

    Who were they?

    Kathy

  14. I’ve joined the ranks of those contemplating mesh removal. I’m terrified.

  15. How does one find a surgeon to do a cystocele and vaginal repair that does not use mesh? I am in Ballarat and the only uro/gyno specialist here is apparently likely to send me to Melbourne to the RWH for surgery as I am a public patient I feel very depressed at all this I’ve got Michelle’s book and has success for years but last month things are worse, I’ve gone from an active bike rider, gym user (carefully) and done yoga 4 times a week and walked 5 km a day to a person who’s to scared to get out of bed, the bladder seems irritated so I feel I’ve further stuffed something and how? Yelling at my teen! That will teach me please advise me I am so depressed from all it’s feels hopeless. :(

    • Michelle Kenway says:

      Hi Sue
      Are you able to ask your referring Urgynae to send you to a specialist that doesn’t use mesh if this is the course you wish to follow. Otherwise you should be able to discuss your preferences with your specialist in Melbourne – quite a few gynaes have ceased using mesh following the negative publicity it has receieved. You are well within your rights to express your own desire regarding your surgery. Hope this gives you a little to go on, one of our readers may also be able to assist.
      Best wishes
      Michelle

  16. Sherri Holmberg says:

    My Daughter had the bladder mesh removal surgery about a week ago. At 1am this morning she woke up with vaginal bleeding and in pain, ended up in the ER at 3am. At this moment she is being transported back to the hospital that did the surgery, about 2 hrs away. The local hospital did a cat scan and saw post surgery adhesions and more infection, not sure where the bleeding is coming from. Before the removal surgery the mesh had erroded through her vaginal wall causing pain and lots of infection. Missing 8 weeks of work is a hugh finacial burden as she and her family live pay check to pay check

    • Michelle Kenway says:

      Thanks Sherri
      Hope your daughter is doing much better now, thanks so much for taking the time to comment here for the information of other women.
      Michelle

  17. Hi All, i have a severe bladder prolapse after the birth of my son. He is 5 months old now and i am 37. Kegels have not helped me – i have been doing them for 2 and a half months with the help of a womens physio. My gp told me my only option is a surgery :( i am devastated, can’t enjoy my baby as i find it difficult to walk, to lift him, to do ordinary stuff throughout the day… I am definitely going to try pessaries to avoid surgery if possible – my gp says pessaries cause bad vaginal wall erosion – does anyone know any other alternatives to surgery apart from pessaries for severe bladder prolapse? Thank you in advance

    • Michelle Kenway says:

      Hi Olivia

      Might be worth a mention that pessaries can cause erosion in some women only – more commonly in post menopausal women with thin pelvic floor tissues. This is why women are commonly prescrived vaginal oestrogen for use to thicken the internal tissues and prevent erosion when using a pessary. This is definitely something to discuss with your gynaecologist.

      All the best
      Michelle

  18. I have seen a few comments from women here asking about who can remove the mesh. I too am looking to have my tvt-o mesh fully removed and can’t find a urogyno anywhere in Australia who will do it. If you have had your tvt-o mesh fully removed please let me know by who? Thank you.
    Jo

    • Please, please, please let us know who to go for complete removal (including the arms or anchors) of the device. I had TVT-0 implanted early 2014 and within a few months started suffering from foreign body response (fibromyalgia) and chronic groin pain. The health problems from this procedure have affected all of my family. I can’t have intimate relations with my husband. I can’t sit anywhere or drive a car without excruciating pain. I may lose my beloved career and job, and not to mention my value and identity as a person, wife, mothers etc. I used to be a healthy vibrant woman now I am that ‘sick’ person. Many Australian women are seeking experienced surgeons overseas who specialise in removal of mesh. Just a night in an American hospital can cost $8000. That is not including surgery, flights, accommodation and medicines. Please, please please Australian government and Doctors…stop using plastic mesh! Warn others of the not so rare complications. Easy to put in…almost impossible to remove. I did the exercises. But if I had my time over again, I would have worked harder on the exercises. Please share names if surgeons who can help with FULL removal. Thanks Antonia

    • Michelle Kenway Physiotherapist says:

      Hi Jo

      This is really a case for individual surgeons to assess and treat accordingly. Unfortunately I’m unable to provide these details. As you can imagine every woman will present with a different history and associated problems. You may find that if your general practitioner can’t recommend a specialist, then you might phone and ask urologist/urogynaecologist receptionists whether that surgeon removes mesh. It’s a really difficult issue and I wish I could assist you.

      Michelle

  19. Hi so many of us with problems aft TVT surgery are asking How do we find specialists to remove it? I dont see any responses? How do we find them? I am in urgent need as i hav finally come to terms to deal with the fact it has erroded into my vagina! Help please

  20. Same Jo any ideas of Urogyno/surgeon in Australia/Sydney that can fully removed it let me know thank you

    Pat

  21. Hi I have just had a anterior repair and also a urethral buttress were they put stitches in your bladder it’s early days as far as the repair as only just been done but the thing for me that is concerning is I can’t wee and am having to use a catheter.. This is my 4 th day and have been told it’s prob just were its swollen but am very concerned it won’t right itself. I am home now and using throw away catheters which are fine but feel all the time I need the toilet and try but nothing comes out. Has anyone else had anything similar ? Thank you