The FDA received 193 reports of death after Monarc Subfacial Hammock placements—by far the highest number for a specific brand of pelvic mesh. The FDA MAUDE system admits their reports are notoriously unreliable for accurate statistics. It isn’t inconceivable that the number is nearer to thousands because the Government Accounted Office estimated only about 1% of complications are reported. (Physicians aren’t mandated to report illnesses, deaths, or injuries.) If the one percent statistic is accurate, then 19,300 deaths have occurred. Given that 4.5 million women across the globe had pelvic mesh implants, it is entirely possible.
With the FDA’s blessings, American Medical Systems rolled out the Monarc in 2005. The half-inch wide strip of loosely-knitted, clear polypropylene monofilament sling came with two stainless steel curved needle passers with plastic-handles that looked like grappling hooks. The top of each passer is intended to grab the ends of the sling and pull it through the vagina and obturator membrane. The sling assembly also included two plastic insertion sheaths attached to the mesh and removed after placement. An absorbable tensioning suture, threaded lengthwise through the mesh, allowed the surgeon to adjust the tension before closing the surgery. AMS declared the mesh would remain in the body permanently.
AMS’s illustration (and it’s understanding of female anatomy?) of the obturator was pictured as a vacant space with no purpose, but in reality, it is flush with blood vessels and nerves supplying the bladder, vagina, vulva, and hips. Those were more vulnerable to injury than AMS acknowledged.
On October 15, 2014, the FDA issued a recall for Monarc sling passers along with other AMS products due to compromised sterile packaging.
If the sterile packaging was the only problem, the deaths might be predominantly due to infection, but the MAUDE death reports include autoimmune diseases like diabetes and several types of cancer (e.g., lymphoma, large and small cell, and lung cancers).
Jenny Wallace (pseudonym) traded her prolapsing bladder for urinary tract infections, pain, infection, vaginal scarring, urinary problems, adhesions, recurrence, emotional distress, apical mesh erosion, extruded vaginal mesh, and bleeding. She was implanted with a Monarc in 2008. She underwent several partial removals and, on October 24, 2010, died of metastatic small cell cancer.
More research needs to be done to determine why Monarc has so many more death reports than other products and to quantify types of death. But, for now, if you have a Monarc, you might consider having it removed by a competent removal surgeon. Fortunately, AMS no longer sells slings.
Peggy Day is working on a book to combine all these stories. This is an excerpt from Pelvis in Flames: Your Pelvic Mesh Owner’s Guide. Your input is welcome to help make Pelvis in Flames the book you need to read.
If you’d like to join an online support group and learn about erosion, partial removals, surgeons, or just find out that you are not alone, join my group, Surgical Mesh or check the list of support groups here.
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Monarc™ Subfascial Hammock