Device popular in medical procedures may bring health risks




Posted on November 17, 2011 at 11:52 PM

Updated Friday, Nov 18 at 5:14 PM

DALLAS - Art is his passion.

But Hal Samples is a tortured artist for another reason.

"It can be a bend-over pain, where it will be a sharp stab," Samples said of the agonizing pain that radiates daily from his abdomen.

Several years ago, a piece of plastic mesh was implanted in Samples gut to correct a hernia.

Surgical mesh is a synthetic material, manufactured by several companies. It's routinely used for hernia, pelvic prolapse and urinary incontinence.

Consumer advocate group Public Citizen estimates about 67,000 women last year had the product implanted for bladder control reasons.

As early as 2005, the FDA received complaints from hundreds of people with permanent injuries from surgical mesh implants. The government agency issued a warning this year about adverse reactions, including pain, infection, and serious scarring.

They are urging doctors who implant the mesh to provide adequate warnings to patients.

Texas Health Dallas urologist Dr. Brian Feagins specializes in such surgeries and believes mesh is a good product when used properly. But some doctors may be implanting it as an easy, profitable fix for a growing number of bladder control and hernia patients, according to Feagins.

"Because this is so easy, at least on an outward appearance, I think there are a lot of physicians that maybe otherwise wouldn't be doing these operations, [are] doing them," Feagins said. "And that may be where part of the problem comes in."

Samples said he was never counseled about the potential risks of the product. He racked up thousands of dollars in medical bills, trying to convince doctors his excruciating condition was real.

He had to travel to Las Vegas for treatment, where Dr. Kevin Peterson specializes in removing surgical mesh other doctors won't touch.

"The patients that I see tend to suffer with severe pain for years and see multiple doctors, being bounced from surgeons to pain specialists, and even occasionally being sent to psychiatrists because their doctors are very reluctant to acknowledge that there really is any problem with their surgery," Peterson said.

He believes patients should be better warned about the potential risks.

"My interest is to help illuminate that this is a problem that is generally by the medical community, denied," Peterson said. "I think that patients should be advised [of] the risks of developing severe, chronic pain when mesh is used to repair hernia. I also think that patients should be advised that there are alternatives to using mesh."

Public Citizen has gone even further, circulating a petition that demands an immediate recall of the potentially defective medical device.

Hal Samples mesh was removed. The piece of plastic had adhered to his abdominal wall and been wrapped around the blood supply in his groin.

He hopes others in pain will hear his story and know they are not alone.

"The journey that I've been on in search to get help, has fractured my belief in the system," Samples said. "And I know that I'm not alone. That there's a couple million people that have the same device. They may not speak out."

Without daily pain, Samples said the joy has returned to his life - and his art.