A 42-year-old Ontario woman has died after years of recurring infections linked to a controversial vaginal surgery.*
Christina Lynn Brajcic suffered severe complications after a transvaginal mesh surgery in 2013, a procedure she said ruined her life and left her unable to walk or have sex.
Doctors recommended a mesh implant to address Brajcic’s urinary incontinence after childbirth. (It’s fairly common for new moms to pee a little when they cough or sneeze.) The procedure permanently inserts plastic netting doctors say acts as a “hammock” keeping pelvic organs in place when surrounding tissue has been stretched or damaged.
Brajcic claimed her surgery quickly turned into a nightmare. Last year she told CTV her mesh implant was immediately painful, like “barbed wire” in her abdomen. According to a GoFundMe page for the family, her body rejected the mesh, causing “infection after infection.”
The Windsor mom devoted years of her life to advocating for women injured by transvaginal mesh. Brajcic petitioned regulators to take mesh off the market until more long-term studies proved them safe. She wrote that a near-death experience last month convinced her to “never stop fighting” for what she called “a life or death issue.”
Brajcic’s husband confirmed her death on her Facebook page Sunday night.
According to a recent CTV investigation, tens of thousands of Canadians have similar procedures every year. The surgery has spiked in popularity over the last decade, and is considered less invasive than alternatives. The surgery is widely recommended in cases of vaginal prolapse, also associated with childbirth.
Brajcic’s death has brought new attention to the truly horrific side effects some women endure, sometimes for years after surgery. It’s also added fuel to thousands of ongoing lawsuits against the makers of mesh products in Canada, the US, the UK and Australia.
According to lawsuits filed by thousands of patients, mesh implants can cause blinding pain, bleeding, organ erosion and perforation. Once pelvic tissue has grown around the mesh, it’s very hard to remove.
One woman in Philadelphia was awarded $57 million earlier this year after a mesh implant produced by Johnson & Johnson “mangled” her urethra. Three corrective surgeries reportedly couldn’t get all the plastic out.
After Brajcic had her mesh implant surgically removed in 2015, she remained in a lot of pain, and grew resistant to the antibiotics used to treat her infections. She documented her trips to the emergency room to warn others of the risks. “I don’t want this to happen to anybody,” she said in a recent Facebook video. “This is insane.”
Brajcic claimed her pain wasn’t always taken seriously by doctors, and finding one who would help her get rid of the mesh was a struggle. “Funny how after going septic and almost dying now I'm getting respect and being treated well by doctors,” she recently wrote on Facebook. “All it took was dying to get better care and better pain management. I will take it…it’s better then (sic) fighting for my care.”
The global medical community stands behind mesh implants as a treatment for incontinence, but depending who you ask, doctors say anywhere from one to 30 percent of patients suffer serious complications. Critics say the surgery is overused, doctors aren’t properly trained, and there hasn’t been enough long-term study.
Most importantly, according to Brajcic, patients aren’t properly informed about the serious risks. Back in 2011 the US Food and Drug Administration reclassified pelvic mesh as “high risk” and confirmed complications are “not rare.” Yet hundreds of thousands of mesh implants have been inserted since.
“It’s not being reported and it’s not being taken seriously,” Brajcic told CTV in September.
Brajcic’s death comes days after Australian regulators banned pelvic mesh products in many cases, and as UK politicians are pushing for a similar ban. The Australian regulator released a statement on November 29 saying “the benefits of using transvaginal mesh products in the treatment of pelvic organ prolapse do not outweigh the risks these products pose to patients.”
It’s a sign public opinion might be shifting, and Brajcic’s supporters are sharing the news alongside tributes to her activism.
“She was a gentle soul who stayed positive to the end,” British anti-mesh campaigner Kath Sansom wrote on Facebook. “Her legacy is raising awareness to stop other women suffering as she did.”
A memorial for Brajcic will be held in Windsor this Friday.
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*Updated to reflect ongoing autopsy investigation that has not confirmed cause of death.