Real Life

Real life story: “A surgical mesh implant killed my mother”

Sharleen's mother Karyn thought she was having routine hernia surgery but surgeons used a type of surgical mesh that caused extreme complications.
Surgical mesh implant killed mum

Sharleen Greer, 31, shares her true life story:

My car tyres crunched as we pulled into my parents’ drive.

“Wake up boys,” I said, smiling at the two sleeping figures strapped into their car seats behind me.

Ryan, five, opened his eyes wide.

“Are we at Nana and Mundy’s?” he asked excitedly.

Just then, my mum came out to greet us.

Ryan and his brother Ben, three, raced to hug her.

“Careful, Nana’s just had an operation,” I warned.

“You can’t stop my grandsons from cuddling their Nana,” she tutted. “Now, who wants to watch a movie?”

Mum always made a big fuss over my kids and they adored her for it.

My husband Trevor and I had moved two hours away from Mum a couple of years earlier but we took the kids down to see my folks whenever we could.

Mum had recently had a routine hernia operation and we’d driven down to see how she was doing.

Later, as I helped her with the washing up, I noticed her wincing slightly.

“What’s the matter?” I frowned.

She quickly rearranged her face into a smile.

“It’s nothing,” she said. “I’ll be right.”

Mum hated to make a fuss but I could tell something was up, so once the kids were in bed, I asked her to be straight with me.

She sighed.

Mum adored her grandchildren.

“It’s like a bee-sting, up there,” she said, meaning up her vagina. And she had numbness in her legs.

It was early days after her hernia operation so we hoped in time the pain would ease, but it only got worse.

Dad said sometimes Mum was in so much pain she couldn’t stand up.

Her GP ordered a scan and Mum called me with the results.

“I’ve got mesh in me!” she said, shocked.

Apparently some surgeons use a special mesh in hernia repair and Mum had a piece the size of a big rasher of bacon jamming into her organs.

We’d had no idea.

It was causing her so much pain that her doctor made a treatment injury claim to the Accident Compensation Corporation to see if she could have more surgery to remove it.

I went to see her as much as I could.

She was a shadow of her former self.

At just 47, she seemed a lot older, hunched over in agony.

It took several months but eventually her claim was approved and Mum was booked in to have the mesh removed.

I asked if I should come down for the op but in her usual stoic way, she brushed it off.

“They’re not even putting me under. It’ll be over in about an hour,” she said.

Dad called me after the op saying the surgeons were happy with how it went.

I spoke to Mum a while later.

She was in great spirits.

“Text me when you wake up and I’ll ring you in the morning,” I said, relieved to hear her sounding so well. “Love you.”

The next morning my phone startled me awake at 5am.

It was Dad, but his voice was all funny.

He said something but at first I didn’t hear him.

Then he said it again and I found myself gasping for breath.

“Mum passed away in the night,” he said.

It’s hard to explain what happened next.

I just went blank.

Trevor told the kids, while I packed a bag, numb and crying.

I was so confused.

It had been a simple procedure.

I’d spoken to her afterwards and everything was fine.

Nothing made any sense.

The drive was the longest two hours of my life.

Dad was like a shell, completely empty.

“She didn’t want me to stay over.

Said I’d be uncomfortable.

She told me to come back in the morning,” he said, his voice flat with shock.

It meant she’d died all alone in hospital.

It was too awful to contemplate.

Staff there were as stunned as we were.

Mum had suffered a heart attack during the night but no-one knew why.

My sister Sheree arrived the next day and somehow we managed to arrange Mum’s funeral.

Poor Ryan, six, was inconsolable.

He had a million questions.

“Why did Nana die? Where’s she gone? What’s heaven like?”

Each one felt like a dagger through my heart because I had no answers.

One day he came home from school and handed me a picture of Nana in her new room in heaven.

“I’ve drawn a TV so she could watch movies in heaven,” he said.

The coroner’s report found Mum had died from cardiac arrest and polypharmacy.

Basically, she’d been on so much pain medication that her heart had given way.

My brave mum never let on to any of us how much pain she was in.

It dawned on me that her death could’ve been avoided if she’d had stitches to repair her hernia instead of the mesh implant.

I did some research and found people campaigning to have mesh surgery stopped in New Zealand.

Scores of women were suffering after they’d undergone the procedure.

It enraged me.

Mum tried to hide her pain from Dad.

My family and I hope that by telling our story we can help save someone’s life.

Mesh can cause major damage internally and can be very hard to remove as the organs grow around it.

Make sure you know exactly what sort of surgery you’re having before agreeing to it.

It’s been three years now and we miss Mum deeply, especially little Ryan.

He’ll sometimes look up at the sky and say, “I miss Nana.”

It breaks my heart.

We miss the way she fussed over our kids and just phoning her up for a yarn.

But most of all, we miss her “I’ll be right” attitude.

Because in the end, she wasn’t, and that’s almost too much for me to bear.

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