Back in 1985, Ray Gray was in the prime of his life.
An active and sporty 22-year-old, he loved nothing more than to hit Sydney’s beaches for a swim and a surf.
Then he was injured on the job while he was working as a storeman and packer.
A hernia in his groin needed surgery – but doctors reassured him they would patch him up with a revolutionary new procedure.
“They said we’re going to put this mesh in, it’s going to fix the hole up no worries, it’s a new technique,” Mr Gray said.
“I have still got the surgeon’s letter saying I was one of the first in Australia to have this done.”
But the surgery was unsuccessful and the hernia opened up again.
Over the next 17 years, Mr Gray would go on to have another seven hernia mesh operations.
“The doctors would just say another hernia has opened up and we have to go in again,” he said.
“None of the operations were successful. I still have a hernia; it’s quite large at the moment. I can only walk about 20-30 metres and then I need to sit down I get so sore.
“All my mesh pieces are still in me and I have got 32 titanium staples in my hip.”
Mr Gray said he always suspected the mesh was behind the constant pain he had been living with ever since his first operation.
“I just felt like something wasn’t right as soon as they put the mesh in. There was this burning pain and it’s still there,” he said.
“When I walk I can feel something scrape like sandpaper on my bowel and I am pretty sure that is mesh.”
Now 58, Mr Gray has been unable to work for 17 years and is on the disability support pension.
“I would say I’ve lost about 75 percent of my life. I’m in constant pain, 24/7. I can’t stand upright. When it’s really bad I’m in bed for days,” he said.
‘We’ve been forgotten’
Mr Gray is among a growing number of men and women who say their hernia mesh plight has been ignored as the focus continues on the horrific side effects some women have experienced with pelvic mesh implants.
“I don’t think there is an awareness out there that hernia mesh can create the same complications as pelvic mesh,” he said.
“It’s not just a women’s problem or a pelvic mesh problem. For some reason men and women with hernia mesh are not getting heard. We’ve been forgotten”
Pelvic mesh implants were the subject of a 2018 Senate inquiry, which found the devices should only be used as last resort because of the potential for crippling side effects.
At the time, then Senator Derryn Hinch declared it “one of the biggest medical scandals” involving Australian women.
The inquiry led to the setting up of a dedicated pelvic mesh clinic on the Gold Coast and the introduction of mandatory reporting of adverse events by doctors.
But the senate inquiry did not investigate the side effects of hernia mesh implants, which have been used for far longer.
Kay-Cee Hall, a mother-of-two from Rockhampton in Queensland, told nine.com.au she had been left crippled by mesh implanted for an umbilical hernia in 2015.
However, Ms Hall, 32, said as soon as lawyers found out her case did not involve pelvic mesh, she was told they could not help her.
“I’ve started ringing around the law firms. They will ask me if my mesh is transvaginal. When I say ‘no’ they say, ‘We are not taking any of those’,” she said.
“I feel like saying, ‘What are those?’ It’s all mesh.”
Nine.com.au understands law firm Maurice Blackburn has been investigating a possible class action against the makers of some hernia mesh devices, however is yet to make a decision on whether to proceed.
Meanwhile, in the US, manufacturers have settled more than 50,000 hernia mesh lawsuits worth more than US$1 billion.
Australia’s Health Consumers’ Council says nearly 100,000 Australians are hospitalised for hernias each year.
However, the number of patients that go on to have hernia mesh implants and have a negative impact is not known.
A survey published last year by the Health Issues Centre Victoria found 183 patients reported major problems with their hernia mesh implants, 70 per cent of whom were men.
Calls for inquiry into hernia mesh
Brisbane man Shane Cook had his hernia surgery in 2016.
Mr Cook said he was in such severe pain in the months and years after the operation he needed to take extremely strong painkillers, including methadone.
“I would be lying in bed and got to the point where I don’t even want to be here because every slight movement would leave me in agony,” he said.
He said he contacted the Gold Coast mesh clinic – the Queensland Pelvic Mesh Service – for help, only to be told they were unable to see patients with hernia mesh.
Surgeons advised Mr Cook against having the complicated surgery to remove the mesh but he said he was determined to have it taken out.
In December last year he had it removed.
Since then, Mr Cook said his condition had improved remarkably.
“Before it was removed I couldn’t even walk. I was on a wheelie walker for about a year,” he said.
“Now, I’m walking around. I’m not 100 percent better but I’m getting there.”
Mr Cook, who describes his experience as “medical torture”, said he had begun lobbying politicians since his recovery in the hopes of getting more support for hernia mesh injured people.
“I think there absolutely should be a Senate inquiry for hernia mesh like what was done on the transvaginal mesh,” he said.
“Something needs to be done. I want them to stop putting that stuff in other people.”
The number of adverse events relating to mesh injures are considered to be vastly underreported, the 2018 senate inquiry heard.
Since 2006, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has received 903 event reports for mesh devices – 713 adverse event reports in relation to pelvic mesh and 190 adverse event reports for all other surgical mesh – including hernia mesh.
Next month, pelvic or transvaginal meshes will be given a ‘high risk’ class III classification by the TGA, meaning manufacturers will need to meet more stringent criteria.
In December next year, all other surgical meshes, including hernia mesh, will also move to a class III classification.
Contact reporter Emily McPherson at [email protected]