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Manitobans get mesh removed in U.S., province pays

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The province has paid for five Manitoba women to seek treatment in the United States since 2012 for complications from transvaginal mesh implants.

However, the Selinger government refuses to halt the use of the devices, saying it will take its cue from Health Canada and the medical community.

Many North American women have complained the devices have caused them debilitating pain. Some are having them surgically removed, but such operations are difficult and often only partially successful. At least 1,000 Canadian women are either participating in lawsuits against mesh manufacturers or expressed interest in joining class-action lawsuits. Many times that number are filing court claims in the United States.

Christine Asprey, a Winnipeg woman who had mesh-removal surgery in California in July, said Friday the devices were not properly researched before they were approved and their implantation should be stopped.

"Women are suffering all over the world," said Asprey, who received the mesh in January 2012. "This is not a joke; this is real."

Within three weeks of her initial surgery, the former hospital program assistant was in excruciating pain. She once said it felt like a cheese grater was "taking pieces of tissue off."

Her friends raised money to send her to Los Angeles for a consultation with specialists in April. Her surgery, which cost $15,600, was done on July 8. The province has since covered the cost of the surgery and one of the flights, she said, and has indicated it would pay for the second trip. She paid for her own accommodation and meals.

Asprey said she's suffered nerve damage and remains in great pain. She's relieved the mesh has been fully removed but says her overall condition is little improved. She received the device to help with incontinence and a prolapsed bladder.

Asprey is now able to walk without a cane, but she can't walk long distances. "And I still can't drive. If I drive, it kills me," she said Friday.

Earlier this year, Health Minister Theresa Oswald said she would press her federal counterpart to review the use of transvaginal mesh. She also vowed her department would ensure Manitoba surgeons were adhering to a 2010 federal safety notice concerning mesh implants.

Though transvaginal-mesh surgery is done in Manitoba, some complications from the mesh are so complex the Health Department has paid for five women so far to travel to the U.S. for help.

Oswald said Friday her department has emphasized to physicians they need to have "very crisp, clear conversations" with patients about the potential side-effects and after-effects of the implants.

The federal Health Department has not ordered a halt to their use, she noted.

Oswald said she's relying on the medical community to determine when mesh insertion is appropriate and when it's not.

"I am not in a medical position to say this is a good tool or a bad tool or a good intervention or a bad intervention," she said. "But I am in a position to say as a policy-maker that we need to ensure that our patients have all of the information as they make their decision with their physician."

A spokeswoman for Manitoba Health said early this year there had been close to 2,000 surgeries to insert transvaginal mesh in the past two years. The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority has said that, like other surgical procedures, there are risks, but it maintains the risks are quite low.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 14, 2013 A16

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