Suffering in Silence: Athlete Pat Buchanan Faces Her Biggest Competitor Yet

Jan 5th, 2012 | By | Category: News, Patient Profiles

Patricia Buchanan

An Athlete’s Challenge with Surgical Mesh

Patricia Buchanan, 61, a widow and triathlete from Whidbey Island outside of Seattle, was training for the USAT age group Nationals Olympic Distance Triathlon scheduled for Burlington, Vermont last August.

She had already qualified, so during the spring and summer of 2011 training became her focus.

On July 9, during her third race of the season, in Mount Vernon, Washington, she was way ahead and feeling confident. Buchanan jumped off her bike and began a 5k run but was seized with a deep and powerful cramp in her left calf. For only the second time in a dozen years of competing, she couldn’t finish a race.

“You know the feeling of cramps as an athlete, but this was so strong in depth and intensity,” she tells MDND. “I had the weirdest muscle pain and weakness in my quads and hamstrings. It was like you pushed yourself to the limit but it was a whole different pain like none I’d ever felt.”

A few days later her lower back seized up in what Buchanan describes as an ‘odd pain,” and she couldn’t sit or lay down without seizing up.  “It rapidly progressed from there,” she says followed by a churning pain in the abdomen and pelvis.

Buchanan at Hawaiian World Championship Triathlon

A Return of Cancer? 

Fearing the worst, she returned to visit her oncologist and received an MRI. Buchanan had been an extreme athlete ranking high her age group nationally for Olympic distance in swim, bike and run, until a cancer diagnosis in 2005. An aggressive stage 2 to 3 breast cancer led to a bilateral mastectomy, 28 chemotherapies, and 28 radiations.

Genetic testing discovered that she carried the BRCA-2 gene mutation from her father’s Russian Ashkenazi Jewish heritage.

But now an MRI revealed she was fine – there was no return of cancer.

Research had shown her that the BRCA gene mutation put her at a 40 percent chance for ovarian cancer, so back in December 2006, Buchanan had a prophylactic hysterectomy and her ovaries removed.

At the same time, the surgeon implanted a Marlex synthetic mesh made by Bard to correct a prolapsed vaginal canal in something called sacral colpopexy surgery. A second doctor implanted a synthetic urethra mesh sling called Monarc made by American Medical Systems (AMS) to treat female stress urinary incontinence.

“I remember them showing me the nice soft piece of urethra mesh they said would act as a hammock for the urethra. It sounded so benign,” she said.

And knowing how active Buchanan was, the surgeon added the mesh was “bomb proof,” assuring her the fix would be resistant to any complications due to her extreme activities.

After the Fall 

Because of the intense pain she felt during the race on July 9, 2011, Buchanan made an appointment with her primary care doctor who saw her the next day and prescribed a muscle relaxer, pain medication, and sleep aids.

The back pain she described as “odd and excruciating” and it continued and with no improvements which led to a series of medical appointments. She had an MRI with her breast cancer oncologist. A urologist said she was fine. Another urologist at another hospital took her pain more seriously and ordered a CT scan, pelvic MRI and pelvic ultrasound and pronounced that she was ‘fine’.

He asked her why she thought her problems might be related to the mesh.

”They were trying to tell me it was fibromyalgia and you should see a urologist, an internist, an endocrinologist or maybe an immunologist.”

By September 1, a return visit to the oncology gynecologist, who did the sacral colpopexy, told Buchanan there had never been a problem with “her” mesh or “her” procedure. She told her patient she would remove the mesh but that ‘most women don’t’ want to pee all over themselves.’

Buchanan at son's wedding, September 19, 2009

”I had never peed on myself before the surgery,” Buchanan says.

Not a Wimp

Buchanan says it’s not her personality to be a “wimp” but she couldn’t have done another month with the pain.

To make the point, Buchanan brought a picture of her racing in the Hawaiian World Championships Triathlon for her age group after her 8th chemotherapy.

It was not my personal best but I didn’t come in last. I wanted them to know I don’t look for excuses to sit around. I want to be training now. It takes a steamroller to known me down and this was it.”

Shortly after Buchanan’s July 9th fall, the FDA’s medical devices division issued a Safety Communication: UPDATE on Serious Complications Associated with Transvaginal Placement of Surgical Mesh for Pelvic
Organ Prolapse.

For the first time, the July 13 notification admitted that serious complications associated with surgical mesh for transvaginal repair of pelvic organ prolapse (POP) are not rare. This was a change from a previously most softly worded alert issued on October 20, 2008.

What sort of risk? After looking at the literature, the FDA reported that the mesh for pelvic organ prolapse (POP) repair introduces risks such as mesh erosion, contraction, severe pelvic pain, painful sexual intercourse, scarring and narrowing of the vaginal wall, erosion, infection and bowel and bladder perforations. And it said:

“Furthermore, it is not clear that transvaginal POP repair with mesh is more effective than tradition non-mesh repair in all patients with POP and it may expose patients to greater risk.”

“I heard on the news and looked it up, I said, ‘This is it – I’m so relieved.’ I thought they (the manufacturers) would take me under their wing and say ‘We’ll take care of you.’ I thought that was the way it was going to go,” she says now with a slight laugh.

So Buchanan took the next step, making an appointment on September 21, 2011 with Dr. Shlomo Raz at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Urogynecology Department. Dr. Raz is considered a leading authority on mesh removal who sees hundreds of cases a year.

“He saw it and told me the Bard is one of the worst ones and my symptoms were completely in line,” she said.

Surgery Scheduled with Dr. Raz

Nearly four months after her initial consultation, Dr. Raz had a surgery cancellation.

Buchanan was back at UCLA, now in a wheelchair unable to stand with a loss of control of her bowels. Muscle relaxers and pain pills made her feel numb and she says she couldn’t have gone another month with the pain.

On October 24, 2011, Dr. Raz found synthetic mesh had sawed its way through her vagina and adhered to her colon causing neurological problems. Her bladder was being held in place with scar tissue and a portion of the mesh was infected and had adhered to her spine. Dr. Raz had to slice between the mesh and the colon to remove the Marlex. Buchanan spent five days in the hospital recovering.

Dr. Raz went in through the abdomen to removed the Bard Marlex mesh and to do some reconstruction, but the Monarc sling remains behind in Buchanan for the time being. Because of the complexity of the surgeries they cannot be performed at the same time.  Removal is only one step.  A half dozen removal and rebuilding surgeries are not uncommon.

When she woke up, Buchanan says she experienced an immediate relief of the pelvic and leg pain. “But I still have the right arch of my foot feels like its arthritic, it feels like it’s in a claw,” she says adding that she has ongoing head and knee aches and nasal congestion which she attributes to a weakened immune system due to the plastic mesh that remains.

Patricia and granddaughter, Naomi

The Aftermath  

“I’ve never been depressed in my life but this is by far the worst thing, worse than cancer,” Buchanan says. “There is nothing worse than something foreign in your body that goes bad. With the mesh, I felt like my body had been taken over and I was a prisoner being tortured.”

Physical therapy and massage, healthy food, cranial electrical stimulation (CES) treatment to soften the chronic pain, acupuncture and seeing a naturopath – all are part of her routine now.

Still fatigue, headaches, a feeling of body inflammation, and what she says is an autoimmune reaction of allergies continues. Buchanan feels fortunate that her medical costs are largely covered by COBRA and at least for another year. Still she’s out of pocket thousands of dollars for travel, co-pays, medication, and the repeated doctor’s visits.

“And for the first time in six months I’ve been able to watch my granddaughter, Naomi, and I can pick her up and put her in a car seat and grocery cart, those are the kinds of things you miss.”

She looks forward to her January follow-up appointment with Dr. Raz and eventually a follow-up surgery. Buchanan says she has no plans to sue, not yet.

Hopefully this will make a statement they’ve got to quit this. I’ve not been well enough to even talk with anybody. I was barely dragging myself to the doctor but they (manufacturers) would never repay me for the life had. Ten million dollars wouldn’t be worth it. And the worst part is having those doctors pat you on your head and send you away.” #

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39 Comments to “Suffering in Silence: Athlete Pat Buchanan Faces Her Biggest Competitor Yet”

  1. Amy G says:

    So sad to hear what you have endured. I am glad you are getting some relief with more natural means and found Dr. Raz. I hope 2012 brings heightened awareness of mesh complications and provides some closure for those of us who were not provided the critical information that would have prevented us from ever allowing this synthetic torture material to be placed in our bodies.

  2. Laura Houston says:

    Pat – I met you in 2007 when you took a Chi Running workshop in Seattle. Geez, you have been through so much! I am so glad you finally found relief. And glad your story is out there for others to see. Take good care; my thoughts are with you for a rapid recovery and further relief. Best wishes for a speedy return to the life you love and deserve!

    • patricia says:

      Laura, of course I remember you. I’m doing a lot of Chi walking right now and very grateful for that. I really think the movement is helping to heal my spine.
      Thank you for checking in.
      Pat

  3. Melanie Bacon says:

    Pat – Sunny forwarded this article. What a nightmare! I am so glad you are finally experiencing relief. Blessings to you..

    • patricia says:

      Dear Melanie,
      This shouldn’t happen to anyone. I met a woman a few days ago who had just had mesh installed a week ago. It’s unbelievable to me that it’s still being used. Please tell anyone and everyone who will listen. Unfortunately I’ve heard so many horror stories and many worse than mine.
      Pat

  4. Cherise says:

    Shit, Pat! I can’t believe this is the first I’m hearing about this. I’m sorry not to have been in touch sooner. Sending love your way.

  5. Fellow Athletes from Whidbey says:

    So glad to hear your feeling better!
    We love and miss you, Super Pat!

    • patricia says:

      Oh my ever loving DSR friends. We’ve certainly sweated, cursed and cried together. A better support crew there never was. I hope to be back in time for my next age group up. Meanwhile, happy trails. I didn’t really want a cause at the moment, but this is it.
      xo
      Pat

  6. Liz Reece says:

    Dear Pat,
    Your story is one of tremendous courage at the way you have dealt with your cancer – fantastic – but also incredible misery which I entirely empathise with, having been through it. But I didn’t have as much to deal with as you and I just wanted to send you my warmest wishes for a good recovery. Please be patient – it takes time for those poor damaged tissues to heal, and you have to work hard at doing nothing for a while after mesh removal. How lovely that you can now concentrate on your granddaughter and enjoy being there with her.

    May we all hope that 2012 brings an end to the use of this dreadful mesh and the denials that it causes so much pain and misery.

    My best wishes for your recovery and future care,
    Liz

    • patricia says:

      Thank you mesh sister. I’m sorry that you’re versed in the horrors of surgical mesh. I know for every one of us that is speaking out there are many more too weak, to broke and broken to do so. I just now got my lot and batch #’s from the original surgery so I can file with the FDA. I can see why so few have done so which of course throws the numbers way off. One thing for sure, my original docs can no longer claim they’ve never had a problem. They’ve all received copies of the recent surgery report.
      I know I’ve got a ways to go, but taking it literally one step at a time.
      I wish you all the best.
      Pat

      • jane a says:

        Patricia and for anyone needing the information:

        Here is how to post an adverse event submission. I noticed the FDA just redesigned its website, but I don’t believe they made this any easier.

        How to Post an Adverse Event with the FDA
        http://meshmedicaldevicenewsdesk.com/?p=569

        Thank you for your story and wonderful pictures! Awesome… ja

      • Pat, for me that is the first thing that needs to be changed by the FDA. Your implant number is your right to have, just like a serial number on anything else you own. Why is it withheld from us and made so difficult to get? Enought said! It should be handed to us before we leave the hospital.

      • Anne Krueger says:

        Dear Patricia, I found your story searching the web. I had mesh implant in June, 2010 for uterine, and bladder prolapse and had no complications until the following May, 2011. At that time I had a searing, ripping sensation and long story short, my bladder and uterus were down, the mesh had torn away. The same Gyne said he would remove my uterus and re-attach the mesh, this would end the problem. Two weeks after surgery, another tearing pain and my bladder was down again. I had and have horrible constipation since the second surgery, now 16 months ago. I had told my doctor about the constipation and he said that it was due to age of my colon. I had never had this problem before. He also told me that there was nothing more he could do for me. I have horrible constipation and a constant feeling of being unwell. Intercourse is also painful. I haven’t returned to any doctor since because I am terrified by everything I have read and fearful of more surgery. I know something is seriously wrong but not sure where to turn. Is the doctor in California my only option and if so, how do I contact him? Your story made me realize that this isn’t going away and I don’t know where else to begin.

  7. HELEN GREEN SUNNY'S MOM says:

    I AM SO VERY SORRY THIS HAS COST YOU SO MUCH IN SO MANY WAYS…I HAVE HEARD OF THE RECALL AROUND IN THE LAST 6 MONTHS…..PLEASE KEEP THIS INFO GOING,I AM….ALL THE BEST, HELEN

    • patricia says:

      Thank you for passing it on Helen. Unfortuntely the FDA refuses to call it quits with this stuff. There were a few batches recalled, but it’s all bad stuff. My Oncologist said she’s now using the “new and improved” mesh. Well, that’s what mine was supposed to be a few years ago. I don’t think any of us want to be a guinea pig.
      Best to you in 2012.
      Pat

    • Helen, please understand that there is NO recall, only a WARNING by the FDA. The warning is not BIG enough for those of us living with mesh in our bodies and the constant pain.

  8. Linda Dodson says:

    Patricia,

    Thank you for sharing your very personal story with us. My twin sister, Brenda is working with Elizabeth in Dr. Raz’s office to get in as soon as possible. Brenda called me tonight and told me that Jane had posted your story. She said that she can certainly relate to how you feel. She is still working and is experiencing such tremendous pain and relates it to the rectocele Gynecare Gynemesh PS made by Johnson & Johnson. Right now, she has refused to go on pain medication. She is getting steroid injections in the SI Joint.

    Prayers coming your way and I hope that you continue to heal from this tremendous nightmare!

    Linda

    • patricia says:

      I’m so sorry to hear about your sister, but at least you know she’s in good hands with Dr. Raz. None of the surgeons I saw in Seattle thought thet’d be able to get it out of my spine which was causing a lot of my neurological problems. He want in and just DID it. I was grateful so many times that I didn’t have a job or small children to worry about. It was a pinch for me financially and I missed being able to care for my granddaughter, but so many women have lost everything because of this. I was worried about becoming addicted to the pain meds as I was on them for 4 months. I was able to get off pretty easily after the surgery. Best of luck to you, Brenda, and your entire family. It does affect affect everyone as does any major medical event.
      Patricia

  9. kelly says:

    Hi Patricia,
    Kelly from the island here.
    We miss you hope to see you soon!
    Pray for you everyday, Way to get the information out there.
    You my friend are saving lives!

    • patricia says:

      Thank you Kelly. You know what this stuff is like. You get so tired of waiting rooms and needles. I’m happy to be doing something cuz it sure aint running! I may have to take up mediitation yet. 2 friends of my daughter were in comsultation to have the urethra sling. They’re in their early 40’s. Unbelievable. I ran successfully with a pessary for the first 5 years of my triathlon “career” If only I could just reach in and take this mesh out like I did with the pessary for so many years. We live and learn, don’t we?
      Wishing you and yours the best year ever. I’m sure I’ll see you before it’s 2013.
      I welcome the thoughts and prayers too.
      Love,
      Patricia

  10. I am so very pleased to ‘meet’ you Pat and read your complete story. You have become very special in my life and in many other women’s lives. With you and others like you, I have gained my power to help others. I appreciate you very much. With much love.

    • patricia says:

      Back atcha Linda. I’m so glad your surgery time is at hand even though I know every day, and sometimes every minute of the pain is almost more than one can take. It’s just wrong that you’ve had t wait so long for help. I know that you’ve helped many women with patience, understanding, and information. I hope you’ll take time for yourself too. You deserve it.
      With love and gratitude,
      Pat

  11. Kathleen says:

    Pat you have no idea how much I appreciate you speaking out like this! You are an amazing woman AND give us all strength and confidence we need to stand up for the truth here. Thank you so much!

    • patricia says:

      You’re welcome Kathleen. It all feels sureal at times. Like a bad dream that you’ll wake up from. We can’t talk in whispers any longer. “Vagina” “incontinence” are words I use now when talking to anyone unlucky enough to ask me how I am, and I don’t lower my voice. Soon after I got out of the hospital I was in the pharmacy when a man asked the pharmacist in a loud voice “What can I use for jock itch?” I thought “Dang! that’s the way to talk about this horrible mesh. Open and unwavering. I think as women we learn to keep “female” things quiet even amongst ourselves.
      Thank you for the supportive comments,
      Pat

  12. Nonie Wideman says:

    Bless you for sharing your story Pat,
    I just had TVT Secur mesh removal on Dec 21st 2011. It was put in 2008, somewhat improved the stress incontinence, but began having anemia, infections, lack of energy, more and harder to control asthma problems, unexplained stiffness , aches and pains, doubled up anti-depressant medication, then in June of 2011 the sudden and unsuspected horrible pain that woke me up in the middle of the night was the first indication that something down below was wrong…..we have similar stories with doctors, head patting, etc.. I can’t imagine how you suffered with so much more mesh in your body. 7 months of feeling the excruciating pain of that smaller mesh slowly sawing away through my vagina, then under my urethra and upwards until I had TVT fibers coming out in my urine was hell. It took an almost suicidal depression for doctors to take my condition seriously and only then act quickly. I have my post -op follow up coming up soon so I’ll know more of where it migrated and how much of it was removed. Being sensitive to chemicals and having environmental allergies I strongly suspect Foreign Body Response started day one after the mesh was inserted and if they didn’t get all of the crap polypropylene out of me I may still have health issues for a long time. You amaze me , with your courage, determination and pain tolerance. I’ m so sorry that you too were a victim of this horrid mesh and am appreciative for your help to spread the word to help protect other women.

    • patricia says:

      Dear Nonie,
      Thank you for the kind response. I’m so sorry for what you’ve had to endure. I also worry about the mesh that might be floating around and attaching elsewhere. It’s misery not to know what the ultimate outcome will be. The fact that the mesh is invisible on any kind of scan makes it impossible to detect as you’re only too aware. Of course that’s also the reason we get sent away from each appointment with a condescending pat on the head. Until it actually erodes through the vagina there’s no way to see what’s going on without exploratory surgery which of course no one wants to do. I know the pain is just so terrible and unrelenting. I wish you all the best and hope you find as much relief as possible.

  13. Jessica Juttner says:

    Dear Pat,

    I am so sorry to hear what a horrible ordeal you have been through. I can’t imagine the pain and then to be repeatedly turned away. I am glad to hear that you found a physician who finally listened to you and is working towards correcting the damage done by the mesh. You are most definitely one of the bravest and strongest people I know. My thoughts and prayers are with you as you continue on your recovery. I miss you and hope to see you again soon.
    With Love,
    Jess.

    • patricia says:

      Thank you Jess. You have always been so sweet and supportive. I’ve been very fortunate to have people like you in my life. This is definitely another big challenge. Somehow with the cancer it seemed more “fair”. That was something my own body had produced and I felt had a chance against. This mesh just laid me flat and feeling helpless. I’ve got a ways to go but just knowing what the problems are makes it easier.
      I miss you too!
      Love,
      Pat

  14. Robin Robbins says:

    Thanks so much for your call today, it meant the world to me and now I see your incredible story. I just sent my story of having a sling for 11 yrs and the surgeries and haywire treatments I had during that time into this site under the page Mary Blanks is taking action. I also wrote you another email and wish you the VERY BEST, Blessings, Robinest58

  15. Teresa says:

    what a beautiful woman!! A heart of an angel! We so appreciate you Pat!

  16. stefanie says:

    Hello, I had the mesh sling put in around 2006. I thought at first it was a miracle, until about eight months after. I feel sick everday. I have to wear pads daily in which I leak right through my pants. I feel I cant go anywhere to sit down without leaving a wet spot. My right hip and both groin areas are swollen and in pain on a regular basis. My sex life has disappeared due to the fact I feel uncomfortable and yucky. I have a constant urine smell. I cant go anywhere without a bathroom nearby. I literally go to the bathroom every fifteen minutes. I am 32 years old I had this surgery when I was 26. I haven’t been able to c hase after my son who is now 9 basically since he has been able to walk. Im overweight due to the fact if I do anything I leak. I am very concerned seeing I am so young. The mesh is no wonder cure. Anyone considering it please think it through because I am living proof of pain suffering and severe depression from this.

    • Jane Akre says:

      Steffy I’d love to interview you for our Patient Profile. You are very young to have this. You can contact me through the website… thank you! and I’m sorry.

  17. Kim Horner says:

    I had the urethra monarc sling done, 8-2-11, and have lived in pain ever since, I have seen many doctors, internal therapist,shots in my back, putting meds in my vaginia, and ready to give up hope. It seems I keep getting refered to doctors that know each other, so they don’t want to touch me, I have been now refered to Seattle, since OHSU said they won’t help me, but is this someone they know as well, i bet my last penny on. Many of doctor bills later, and giving up hope, living with pain everyday, is their any doctor close to Oregon that you know. God help us all.

  18. Dear Pat

    I have just read your story and it is heart rendering with what you have been through. I am a sufferer my self and will be having mesh removal soon.

    I have been very ill of late and have just had gallbladder removal because of infection not gallstones.

    My gallbladder was adhered to my liver. I have had my sling in for over 6 years and it was founf that it is like shrapnel in my body. It has destroyed my urethra which needs reconstruction and it is also embedded in the bladder neck.

    I have suffered for many years like other sufferers only to be told that there is nothing wrong.

    I am so glad that you have had some relieve from the first operation and wish you well from overseas The United Kingdom

    Teresa Hughes

  19. […] Caring and Nurturing.  This is the way I describe Pat.  She has been through hell and back and yet she still takes time to answer emails I send to her and lets women know they are not alone.  Pat was an athlete.  Then her life went downhill and she lived in a world of agony.  Meet Pat.  http://meshmedicaldevicenewsdesk.com/patient-profiles/suffering-in-silence-athlete-pat-buchanan-face… […]

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