"It is important that, if patients understand that they have had hernia repair surgery and feel they are not getting the help they need from their doctors, they need to work to get themselves healthy, even if they have to find a new doctor," Gillespie says. "These problems are hard to diagnose: people can have a breakage, or have a patch malfunction, and doctors have a hard time diagnosing it for a variety of reasons. Reactions to the patch can manifest in many ways, including infections, bowel obstructions, constipation or diarrhea and various internal organ complications. People need to be aware of what is happening to their body. If something doesn't feel right, have it looked at. If they do not feel listened to by their practitioner, find a doctor who will listen.
"That said, not every hernia repair has gone bad. There is residual pain from a hernia repair--that's a given. However, if you have pain plus constant diarrhea, excessive seeping or constipation, that's when you know something funny is happening and you should seek additional medical care."
The sad truth about patients who have had a Composix Kugel Mesh patch malfunction is that they often become cut off from society. The injuries caused by a malfunctioning hernia repair patch are often thought of as undignified, which discourages people from wanting to discuss their situation or even go out in public.
"It is difficult to be forthright about injuries," Gillespie says. "In society we don't want to talk about being constipated or having diarrhea; we don't want to talk about open wounds that won't heal and are constantly seeping. These problems are caused by rejection or malfunction of the patch. When you have that going on in your lower abdominal area, that prevents you from living your life--if nothing else, out of embarrassment. That is the saddest thing about this situation. If you have a heart problem, you can feel free to talk about that openly, but with these Kugel Mesh injuries you can be made to feel isolated from society.
"Clients go in for something that was supposed to be a 'better than a routine hernia repair', done with laparoscopy, requiring smaller incisions and less recovery time. Then, it doesn't work out as planned; instead of a two-week recovery, 6 to 7 years down the road patients are still recovering and going through multiple surgeries trying to fix what was supposed to be so simple. They are unable to work, go out to dinner or go out to movie. They are pretty much chained to the home. Some of their infections are so bad that they can be smelled by other people. These are the unspoken injuries of these cases."
Many patients think that because their surgery happened a few years ago, there is no longer anything they can do to be compensated for what they have been through. Gillespie says that it is still important to talk to an attorney because there are a lot of elements that need to be considered before a claim is deemed stale.
"When you go into the surgery, you don't know what patch is being used--you aren't told that information," Gillespie says. "At the time when these patches were being used they were looked at as being the better patch. It's only in the last few years that it has come to light that the manufacturing processes and adverse event reporting by Bard/Davol were poor. Then there was the recall and 2 expansions of the recall. Importantly, the scope of the litigation is broader than the scope of the recall, for appropriate reasons. Just because the extra large or large patch was found by the FDA to be improperly manufactured does not mean that the other patches were properly manufactured or designed." There may be some legal remedies that are available that people have not thought of, so they should at least complete an interview with an attorney.
It is vital to note that just because it is not too late to take action does not mean that patients have extended time to speak to an attorney. In fact, the sooner they contact an attorney, the better.
"Once patients realize that they are having pain-plus [diarrhea, seeping wounds, constipation or other problems] and they had hernia repair surgery, that is when their clock could start ticking," Gillespie says. "If they are putting 2 and 2 together, they should contact an attorney. They need to at least do the interview to see if it is something that the attorney can work on. They should definitely seek out an attorney if they have spoken to a doctor who has said, 'Maybe it's the patch.'
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"It is important for clients to try to get the exact date of their surgery. That helps us quite a bit. They should try to figure out who performed the surgery or the facility where the surgery was performed. Then we can get the specific records to get the necessary information to pursue their case."
Above all else, however, it is vital to keep the statute of limitations in mind. Anybody who is experiencing discomfort and understands that they have had a hernia repair surgery should contact an attorney as soon as possible. Although it is not too late to take action yet, time could run out.