The Danger of the TVT Bladder Sling: A mother’s story

By Kath Sansom

A bladder sling is used to treat urinary incontinence. Incontinence is something many women who have birthed children suffer from, as the muscles at the bladder neck have lost their strength and supports, causing leakage. The sling is made from surgical mesh usually inserted through one vaginal and two abdominal incisions. This is one mother’s story of having this surgery, and how for her and many others, it has led to ongoing health and pain issues. This is not intended as medical advice but the sharing of one woman’s experience.

I was a healthy and happy mum of two teenagers, but had a niggling problem of suffering life’s little leaks when I exercised. It wasn’t the end of the world but when I heard about a simple 20 minute day-case operation to fix it, I jumped at the chance. I was told it was the gold standard treatment with minimal risks and that I would be healed within a week.

The decision to go under the knife was to change the course of my life. Forever.

Two days after the mesh TVT bladder sling was inserted, my nose started dripping. I thought nothing of it, but then leg pains intensified and with each step I became more and more scared.

How on earth had I gone from a super-fit mum who did high board diving, boxing, swimming and cycling, to now struggling to potter around the house or walk my dog round the block?

Three weeks after the sling was put in I Googled “TVT gone wrong” and sat shocked at my computer as I saw I was not alone. I was one of thousands of women around the world suffering severe mesh complications.

The pain put me on nerve blockers and Tramadol and left me with sleepless nights of regret – if only I could turn back the clock. It was the worst decision of my life.

The leg pains were like intense toothache. It felt like somebody had punched the base of my feet and at times like my legs and ankles were being lashed with barbed wire. I had burning pains in my groin and private parts, severe stomach acid reflux and it hurt to sit for too long.

I thought it was some body-friendly sling and had no idea it was polypropylene plastic. With hindsight I should have done my research but I trusted the medical profession to get it right.

So to channel my anger I set up Sling the Mesh Facebook campaign to reach out to other women who have also suffered and whose surgeons were ignoring their pain or blaming it on other issues.

In less than 18 months the group has more than 1,000 members from across the world. All suffering a varying degree of pain, some struggling to walk, others with severe water infections, some self-catheterising for life, some have lost sex lives due to burning pains in their vagina or where the mesh has cut through the vaginal walls.

Some are in wheelchairs, others shuffle using sticks, and some have legs that shake due to nerve damage from the harsh plastic mesh.

Many suffering allergic reactions. Many have depression – they went in to improve the quality of life so they no longer wet themselves – but now their lives have changed beyond recognition. And worse, many GPs surgeons or surgeons have no clue how to help them.

For all of us our quality of life has been compromised to some degree – some worse than others.

I had my mesh removed in corrective surgery with one of only a handful of surgeons in the world capable of removing this stuff – Natalia Price in Oxford in October 2015 – seven months after it was first put in. The pain has pretty much subsided and I am off all the medication which I relied on.

However I will never go back to what I was.

I can now no longer put any impact on my legs – so activities like running, skipping and cycling (a real passion of mine) are gone, forever. I also find if I overstretch my legs in activities like yoga, which I had enjoyed for 25 years, then the leg pain returns. Kneeling down or doing squats also sets off the leg pain.

Because I am so determined I still go boxing but make sure I don’t bounce on my legs in any way. I swim and go on long dog walks – but every day I am mindful of all of my movements to make sure I do not do anything that could trigger the horrific leg pain.

Every day I either talk to women on the phone, by email or Facebook, counselling them on how best to fix the problem they now find themselves with.

Every operation has risks – but these are unacceptable risks and ones which none of us are properly informed about. I highly recommend anybody considering a mesh sling fix to thoroughly do your research and know exactly what you could be signing yourself up for.

It could just change your life. But not for the better.

I am a 49 year old single parent to two teenage girls (19 and 14) . My youngest was 9lb 11oz, so not only was she a big baby but I also suffered with pubis symphis dysfunction and was on crutches for the last couple of months of the pregnancy – which may have  contributed to weakened pelvic floor muscles. I live in Cambridgeshire, UK. I have been campaigning to raise awareness among mums since June 2015 through my Sling the Mesh Facebook and Twitter pages, and my website.


  • Thank you for sharing and reaching out to help others. We need to hear that we are not alone and complications are not rare.

  • Thanks for sharing Kath. The word needs to get out that many women and also men (hernia mesh) do suffer terribly from this petroleum based plastic being implanted into their bodies. What suits one person does not automatically suit another. It can never be a good thing and I wish my surgeon had told me about all the risks but he didn’t and 12 years later I am still stiff, sore and now have fibromyalgia amongst other things. There are more natural alternatives to mesh which but unfortunately they take more skill and time and are more expensive. Surgeons are losing the expertise of the old ways and replacing it with these quick fixes which have never been studied long term to see effects on the body years later. Problem also is that this is meant to be a permanent implant and as you say who can you go to for help? I live in Northern Ireland and have no where to go to and I just feel like I am banging my head against a brick wall.

  • Kath, I am so sad to read about this! Have you seen a women’s health physical therapist? I meet so many moms here who need help but who haven’t ever heard of women’s health physical therapy – it can really change your life.

  • In the USA, there are now over 100,000 lawsuits filed against mesh manufacturers by women just like Kath who used to be young, healthy, and fit – and after a simple mesh sling operation, were disabled and crippled, many permanently. Professional medical organizations like AUGS and AUA advise doctors to tell their patients that these mesh complications are only from the mesh kits used for pelvic organ prolapse. These organizations claim that mesh slings for incontinence (also known as TVT, TOT, TVT-O, Midurethral slings, Transvaginal Tape, Bladder slings, SUI slings) are perfectly safe. The truth is, the vast majority of the lawsuits in the USA against mesh are relating to these SUI slings for incontinence – the same ones that AUGS and AUA claim are perfectly safe. Mesh is polypropylene – plastic. It does not belong in the human body. It leaches toxic chemicals, creates a chronic inflammatory foreign body response that can worsen or lead to autoimmune conditions. It hardens and shrinks once inside the body. Imagine, having a piece of plastic permanently implanted under your urethra – only to have it harden and shrink and cut through your tender urethral and vaginal areas. And PERMANENT is the key word here. Since 10% or more of women will experience mesh erosion (the mesh wears through your vagina, through the skin, like a giant infected splinter) one would think that there would be a plan for how to remove this implant when needed. But that was not part of the design. Mesh slings were designed to be permanent. They “mesh” with your nerves and tissue. So if you’re one of the 10%+ of women who need it out – you’re out of luck. A select few surgeons worldwide can attempt to fully remove it – but with no guarantees. Most surgeons will just snip off the part that erodes through your vagina, sew skin over the remainder, and wait for it to erode yet again. Many mesh victims have had 20 or more surgeries to try to locate and remove all of the plastic shrapnel. And most of us, myself included, will never be the same again. I was like Kath – young, healthy, fit, active mum who just simply wanted to stop leaking when she sneezed/coughed. None of us would have ever agreed to this surgery had we been properly informed of the potential devastating, permanent, life-altering consequences.

  • This practice is totally irresponsible and needs to be stopped immediately. It looks like it will take lawsuits to do this. Good work Kath. Keep up the campaign until this horrible surgery is stopped.

  • It is now 9 years later and i am still.suffering badly.i still suffer from severe bladder infections and severe leg pains
    I spend a lot of time in bed

  • Are there any support groups in cape town south africa as i feel helpless and alone.i have spent thousands of rands running around from one specialist to another trying to get some help.

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