Bride needed pain relief injections to walk down the aisle after controversial incontinence surgery left her with an egg-sized blood clot
A mother claims she had to be injected with pain relief so she could walk down the aisle on her wedding day after suffering agonising side-effects from incontinence surgery.
Kim Vallis had suffered a leaky bladder since the birth of her son, Haydon, six years earlier.
She was offered what she thought would be a quick and easy solution to the embarrassment of stress incontinence when she was 27.
She had a treatment called transvaginal tape (TVT) – a mesh implanted under the bladder like a hammock to treat incontinence by supporting the internal organs.
But she says the controversial procedure – which has already been blacklisted in Scotland – left her in agony and she is now taking legal action against the hospital involved.
TVT tape is now known to have a devastating design fault — a tendency to break up in the body, causing small fragments to cut their way into surrounding tissue.
Mrs Vallis, from Gloucestershire, said coughing or sneezing would result in embarrassing leaks, to the point it was preventing her from doing everyday things with her son.
Using incontinence pads made her feel ‘like an old woman’ so when her consultant told her TVT would be a quick and easy answer she was happy to go ahead.
The 30-year-old now bitterly regrets her decision to go under the knife and says the operation almost destroyed her health.
‘I ended up in agony for months and the pain nearly ruined my wedding day and my sex life,’ she said.
But after the operation in January 2014 she awoke in agony.
The pain failed to ease and she struggled to pick up her son. She walked with a limp and a lump also appeared in her groin.
Partner Tony Vallis, 37, who the teaching assistant met a few months later, was understanding but she was in too much pain to have sex.
‘I was madly in love with the man but sex was impossible. It was agony,’ she said.
Still hoping things would get better the couple decided to marry in August 2015.
But as the big day approached Mrs Vallis begged doctors to investigate.
She went back into hospital where further surgery revealed a 4cm piece of mesh had looped over, causing the lump and pain.
It was removed, but her pain got worse and she could not walk or drive. She then had more surgery to remove an egg-sized blood clot in her groin.
‘People told me I should cancel the wedding but I refused. I said I would use a wheelchair if I had to,’ she said.
WHAT IS TVT?
Transvaginal tape (TVT) is a mesh implanted under the bladder like a hammock to support damaged pelvic organs after childbirth.
TVT tape is known to have a devastating design fault — a tendency to break up in the body, causing small fragments to cut their way into surrounding tissue.
This is described as the ‘cheesewire effect’, because of the excruciating pain it causes.
Mrs Griffiths is one of thousands of women suffering internal lacerations from the procedure that, in some cases, has left victims with difficulty walking.
They also suffer repeated pain and infection, worse incontinence and the end of their sex lives.
In the end, to allow her some sort of normality on the big day, a doctor injected painkillers so she could walk pain-free down the aisle. But a honeymoon was out of the question.
Mrs Vallis then discovered she was pregnant – but miscarried after 10 weeks.
‘Nobody could tell me if it was the mesh but I felt there was no question. My body was a wreck because of it.’
She turned to her family for help and together they raised enough money so she could have the mesh removed privately.
After the procedure she was told by her specialist that it had been inserted incorrectly.
She claims to be one of hundreds of British women who say TVT surgery left them suffering chronic pain, repeat infections, nerve damage and poor urine flow.
Such is the controversy surrounding the mesh that NHS England has undertaken a working group review and several hospitals have stopped using it.
The surgery was suspended in Scotland by the Scottish government two years ago where 400 lawsuits are ongoing.
And in the USA and Canada around 100,000 lawsuits have been filed by TVT victims who have permanent disabilities.
However, it is still routinely offered to women in England and Wales suffering incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse – where the womb presses against the bladder – and there are no plans to stop the 13,000 operations taking place each year.
Mrs Vallis and others are now campaigning for England to follow Scotland’s example.
Sohier Elneil, a consultant urogynaecologist and uroneurologist at University College Hospital, London, believes TVT has been hugely overused.
Before the tape was introduced patients were offered physiotherapy.
If that failed the next step could be a Burch colposuspension, a surgical procedure that involves lifting the front wall of the vagina and stitching it to the pubic bone. However, the procedure is more specialised than TVT.
‘The scale of the (TVT) problem is not really acknowledged, but the complexity is, so much so that professional bodies are now coming together to try and standardise the care patients access,’ says Miss Elneil.
Mrs Vallis now belongs to a support group called Sling The Mesh, which is campaigning for a ban and a national register of complications.
It was started by journalist Kath Samson after she had the surgery in March last year.
She had the mesh removed in September 2015 and says she is one of the ‘lucky ones’ who returned to full health.
‘The problem is that the operation is considered a success on the basis that it does stop incontinence,’ she said.
‘What those statistics don’t take into account is the fact it can destroy every other area of your life.’
She is now campaigning against TVT. ‘Scottish women are now safe so why is it still available elsewhere in the UK? We won’t stop until all women are safe and it is banned,’ she said
Corinna Lincoln, a solicitor at Taylor & Emmet in Sheffield, said the number of women affected is worrying.
‘In many instances other options were not explored properly with patients and women were not informed clearly that once implanted, the mesh is intended to be permanent,’ she said.
‘Removing it is extremely difficult and can result in even more harm and damage.
‘As a result there are concerns women were not aware of the risks and were not able to make an informed decision.’
However, Natalia Price, the consultant gynaecologist and urogynaecologist who removed Mrs Vallis’s mesh, stands by TVT as a treatment.
She argues it remains the ‘gold standard’ operation for treating stress incontinence.
‘Complications can occur but the majority of patients get stress incontinence cured and experience no adverse outcomes,’ she said.
Miss Price adds that mesh surgery to treat prolapse has a higher complication rate because the surgery involves a larger mesh, but says despite that, the surgery still offers considerable benefits.
She acknowledges she has seen an increase in women coming forward with concerns but believes some media reports about TVT have been misleading – and was unable to confirm if Mrs Vallis’s had been inserted incorrectly because of the ongoing legal case.
‘It is very important that women receive evidence-based unbiased information on the risks and benefits. They can then make a fully informed decision,’ she said.
While Mrs Vallis can now walk, drive, and enjoy intimacy with her husband again, she remains angry, has formally complained to the hospital and is taking legal action.
‘Women like me have been to hell and back because of the TVT mesh,’ she said.
‘Scottish women are now safe so why is it still available elsewhere in the UK? We won’t stop until all women are safe and it is banned.’