Poisoned by their curves: Four women talk candidly about the agonising price they”ve paid following their breast enlargement
Amanda Harrison is trapped in a nightmare as shocking as it is gruesome.
Five years ago, in 2006, she underwent a breast implant operation. She had always been self-conscious about her small breasts and the augmentation, which cost 4,250, took her up from a size AA to a B cup.
She was happy with the result but, two years later, she began feeling unwell; off colour.
Then, she began experiencing shooting pains across her chest and under her right arm and discovered a lump in her right breast. Tests established it was non-cancerous, but on doctors’ advice she had it removed.
Panic: Amanda Harrison developed lumps on her spine after her breast enlargement operation
Her health continued to worsen and, by January this year, she was suffering constant neck and back pain, sickness and confusion. Admitted to hospital with suspected viral meningitis, tests failed to establish what was wrong. And, alarmingly and inexplicably, one breast had become noticeably bigger than the other.
Amanda telephoned the clinic where she had the operation but was told that as her three year ‘warranty’ had expired, it was unlikely they would be able to help.
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Fellow sufferers: Catherine Kydd and Gemma Garrett also had complications after surgery
In a state of mounting panic, she went for a scan which showed that her right implant had, indeed, ruptured. The following month, she returned to the Harley Street clinic where she had the original operation to have the implants removed and replaced.
‘My surgeon was great, he waived his fee, but I had to pay 1,500 for hospital costs and the anaesthetist.’
But, still, her nightmare goes on.
The leaked silicone has spread to her lymph nodes and a scan has revealed two bulging lumps on her spine.
She now has no idea what is going to happen to her.
A one-off Far from it. For behind Amanda’s story lies a medical scandal on a truly horrifying scale — one which is only now starting to become apparent.
This week, the French Government announced that it is to pay for tens of thousands of women to have their implants removed, amid fears they are at a heightened risk of cancer.
Searching for an answer: One day Amanda logged on to the internet and typed in ruptured breast implants and everything became terrifying clear
The move follows the death from a rare form of cancer of a French woman who had PIP implants in 2005.
Seven more cases of cancer have appeared in women with PIP implants in France.
So far, the PIP scandal has focused on the potential cancer link.
But,shocking as that is, what has not emerged until now are the stories of hundreds of British women — and it could be far more — who, while they may not have cancer, are suffering a myriad of strange and unusual symptoms.
Their storieson internet forums have recurring themes: a general feeling of malaise,shooting chest pains, silicone leakage into the lymph nodes, back and neck pain.
And there is, of course, the unspoken terror: the feeling of what is going to happen next
Thatis the question that 50,000 British women will be asking themselves this Christmas — for that is the number who have had PIP implants.
Itis impossible to say right now just how many of those women have experienced adverse reactions, but there is evidence already that the numbers may be alarmingly high.
Onelaw firm, Hugh James, is representing more than 250 women — Amanda among them — who say they have suffered ‘injury’ as a result of receiving PIP implants.
Anotherfirm, Hertford-based Garden House Solicitors, is representing 27 women and last month launched 18 High Court actions against various cosmetic surgery companies.
Legal action is made problematic, however, by the fact that PIP, based in the South of France, has gone into liquidation and thus cannot be sued.
That has left many women who fear they may be affected scrabbling around in the dark for advice and support.
A page on social networking site Facebook has been set up for women with ruptured PIP implants, with more than 200 women so far signed up to it.
Yet the official response has been to downplay any potential threat.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the government body which licenses medical products in the UK, such as breast implants, has so far said there is insufficient evidence to indicate any association with the implants and cancer.
Whether there is such a link may be established in time. But Amanda, for one, is in no doubt that what has happened to her is a direct result of her implants.
‘My GP told me that because the silicone was in my lymph nodes, and in my system, it was affecting my immune system and would have caused most of my symptoms,’ she says.
‘Doctors don’t know what the lumps on my spine are, but other women on the Facebook support group describe the same thing. That cannot be a coincidence.’
Since the operation to remove the PIP implants, another lump has appeared on Amanda’s right breast and she is awaiting the results of tests to identify it. ‘My surgeon thinks it is probably a lump of silicone from the PIP implant,’ she says.
Victim: Catherine Kydd set up a support group on Facebook for those affected by their implants
Her neck and back pain is excruciating and she takes painkillers every day. She has had to have long periods off work as an advertising and marketing coordinator and iscurrently off sick again.
‘Itreally is a complete nightmare. The worst thing is I just don’t know what to do to escape it. I have this stuff in my body and it’s not goingaway.
‘The stress of it all caused my boyfriend and I to split for a while. My boss has been very understanding, but I think he’s losing patience.
‘I’m too ill to enjoy my son properly. I’m in constant pain and fatigued.
‘It’s terrifying to think that a woman has died of cancer in France. I have no idea what the future holds. And I think most people have the impression I’ve brought it all on myself by having cosmetic surgery in the first place.’
Gemma Garrett is similarly anxious. The 30-year-old model paid 4,500 for breast implants at a private clinic in London in March 2008, one month before she won the Miss Great Britain competition.
She had always been self-conscious about the fact that one breast was markedly smaller than the other, and when she began modelling and taking part in beauty contests she decided to have breast augmentation.
It was, she believed, a straightforward and relatively risk-free procedure.
It was anything but. A year later, she noticed a lump in her left breast and began feeling unwell. A scan ruled out breast cancer; her doctor told her to keep an eye on the lump.
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Anxious: Gemma, a former Miss Great Britain, also felt unwell after receiving PIP breast implants
Six months later, her left breast began to feel uncomfortable. She went back to see her surgeon but was told this was ‘normal’. Over the next couple of years, she regularly experienced numbness in her left side and pins and needles in her hands.
Then,in 2009, she discovered a lump in one of her breasts. ‘I was terrified.I’m adopted, but I knew my natural mother had died of breast cancer.’
An MRI scan revealed the implants had ruptured.
Catherinewas told the NHS would remove them, but if she wanted them replaced — and it is very difficult to return the breasts to shape unless this is done — she would have to have the procedure done privately.
Catherinecontacted Transform and requested they do the operation for free. She says the company initially refused but eventually relented after it emerged that PIP had been using sub-standard implants.
She had her implants removed and replaced in July 2010.
‘To be fair they did the operation in the end, but it was a real struggle to get them to do it.
‘Iwas told the silicone had spread to my lymph nodes, but the doctors told me they didn’t feel it was necessary to remove my lymph nodes, thatit wouldn’t be a problem. But I am terrified. When I am feeling under the weather I get aches under my armpit.
‘Is that normal I don’t know.’
Whencontacted by the Mail, Transform said they would not comment on individual cases, but issued this statement: ‘Following the press coverage regarding Poly Implant Prothese (PIP) implants, the MHRA has reiterated its view that after extensive testing there is insufficient evidence to indicate an association with cancer and that there is nothing to support the routine removal of PIP implants.
‘Ifyou are a Transform patient and are concerned, please be reassured thatour usage of PIP implants since 2005 has been extremely limited.’
SarahHouse, 44, a former social worker and mother-of-two from Hereford, who is married to Barry, 50, a retired policeman, is currently recuperating at home after having her PIP implants removed and replaced with new implants earlier this week.
Shehad the original implants put in nine years ago, and experienced no problems until four weeks ago when her left breast began to swell.
Within 24 hours, her breast size had gone up from a size C to an E.
Sarah’sGP referred her to a surgeon at Nuffield Hospital in Hereford. ‘It was so painful, says Sarah. ‘I’d kept all the information on my implants andtook it all along to the hospital.
‘When I showed it to the surgeon, his face dropped. He told me he had seen a lot of problems over the past year with these particular implants. After tests I was told the implant had ruptured, the fluid had leaked and my body fluid had filled up my breast. I feel angry as, before I had the implants put in, I asked the surgeon lots of questions about the danger of them rupturing, how they were made and whether they’d been tested.
“It really is a complete nightmare. The worst thing is I just don’t know what to do to escape it. I have this stuff in my body and it’s not going away… I’m too ill to enjoy my son properly. I’m in constant pain and fatigued”
‘I was assured that the implants were the safest on the market.
‘I wanted implants because I had a very small bust, 32AA, and it used to get me down.
‘Butthe past few weeks have been very distressing and to have them taken out and replaced has cost us 7,500. We’ve had to re-mortgage the house to meet the payments.’
NigelMercer, a consultant cosmetic surgeon and spokesman for the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS), warns that the PIP case may not be an isolated incident.
Hepoints out that once implants have received their ‘CE mark’ — a European Community manufacturing standard rather than a quality standard— there is nothing to stop manufacturers swapping expensive components for cheaper ones.
‘It is very worrying,’ he says. ‘We think there should be a system where products are randomly reviewed and clinically analysed every year.’
ButSally Taber, director of the Independent Healthcare Advisory Services (IHAS) supports moves made by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley and the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to reassure women.
Shesays: ‘We are pleased to see that health and regulatory experts from the Netherlands, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Hungary, Austria, Denmark, Malta and Australia have all confirmed no evidence of any increase in incidents of cancer associated with PIP breast implants and no evidence of any disproportionate rupture rates.
‘France are looking increasingly isolated in their stance, and their pre-emptive statements have caused unnecessary alarm.
‘Our advice is that anyone concerned about their breast implants should contact their GP or implanting surgeon.’
Professor Simon Kay, consultant plastic surgeon and communications chair of the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons, also urges women who have the implants not to panic.
‘After an implant rupture, reactive lumps can form in the breast and armpit. It is the body’s normal reaction to an external substance and should not be harmful.
‘Having said that, an implant rupture is not a desirable situation, and there is a powerful argument to have a ruptured implant removed because it can cause a lot of fear and stress.
‘It is impossible to comment on these women’s cases, but at the moment there is no evidence that the PIP implants are a risk to women’s health, though I accept that evidence may be contradicted in time.’
But Christopher Inglefield, of the London Bridge Plastic Surgery and Aesthetic Clinic, is in little doubt about the magnitude of the problem: ‘These things are dangerous and we, as an industry, have a duty of care to the women who have been given them.
‘The French Government has said people should have them removed and we would make the same recommendation.’