The UK’s Daily Mail runs a piece this morning regarding Tracey Stevens, a 45 year old woman who is reportedly Britain’s first victim of a health scandal regarding faulty and potentially life-threatening breast implants. The Daily Mail states that:
‘When Tracey Stevens had breast implant surgery to regain her figure after giving birth, it seemed to have been a complete success. But she went on to suffer a mystery illness for years, with periods of terrible joint pain. After an attack of extreme fatigue that left her barely able to get out of bed, tests revealed that both her implants had ruptured and were leaking silicone into her blood.’
Now, quite apart from the fact that the Daily Mail (or Daily Fail, as it is known to some here in the UK) has a habit of sensationalising stories and going a bit OTT on things, in this case there’s no getting away from the fact that this is an absolutely horrible occurrence and that suffering debilitating and mystery health symptoms must have been entirely distressing for Mrs Stevens and her family.
Mrs Stevens is the first-known British woman to come forward as the victim of this health scandal, which involves a French firm’s breast implants. The implants in question have been given to approximately 50,000 women in Britain and hundreds of thousands of other women across Europe and Worldwide.
The implants made by Poly Implant Prothese (PIP) reportedly lacked a vital inner protective layer to stop them splitting. Worse still, they contained a silicone gel that had not undergone safety testing and was most probably intended for use in mattresses. Horrendous. And, even more shockingly, experts who are investigating the case believe that the problems with the implants are down to cost-cutting on PIP’s part.
Thankfully for Ms Stevens, her PIP implants were removed and replaced with safer new versions. She told the Daily Mail that her symptoms of ill health disappeared within hours of the operation to remove the faulty implants and that she has made a complete recovery. However, she did have to have several of her lymph nodes –parts of the immune system that filer out foreign particles – removed from her armpits, as they had been clogged with the implant gel. This will affect her ability to fight disease for the rest of her life.
Doing even just a little research into PIP online tells us that the company used to be the World’s third-largest manufacturer of implants. It’s products were among the cheapest available on the market and were widely used. But French authorities suspended the implants from use in March, and PIP has since gone into administration, leaving women like Ms Stevens struggling to gain legal compensation for the problems they have suffered.
This is a horrific story, but I’m sad to say that I wasn’t really all that shocked when I heard about it. Horror stories about breast implants and other forms of plastic surgery are abundant on the television and in trashy magazines all the time, so it’s no wonder we’ve been desensitized to stories such as this. Though I would question Ms Stevens motives for getting plastic surgery in the first place (as I would with any form of unnecessary surgery, including circumcision), I feel so dreadfully sorry for the pain she and her family have suffered as a result of this.
What I find most concerning, however, is that this isn’t the first time I’ve reported on unapproved or untested health products being used on unsuspecting Western women. In July I wrote about how OB-GYN Associates, in Rhode Island, has been fitting IUDs unapproved by the FDA into hundreds of women. The suspected reason behing that case? Cost savings. Just like this one.
This case, as with the case of OB-GYN associates, makes me wonder just how desperate health practices are for profit. I can see how money could be saved by the purchase of, say, non-branded cleaning products or latex gloves, but to skip vital health checks or safety measures on products that will be implanted inside a woman’s body is just unacceptable. And it may well be criminal.
Once again, it all boils down to a question of trust, medical ethics and professionalism. No woman should be scared of accessing medical care, of any type (including elective plastic surgery), through fear of medical professionals abusing their trust. For all the rigorous testing, investigatory bodies and health agencies that exist, I can’t help but wonder when the day that I’ll stop writing about things like this will come. I hope it’s soon.