An Orillia woman is leading the charge in petitioning Health Canada to look into the negative effects of breast implants.
The side effects of breast implants were the last thing on Judith Coates’s mind as she recovered from a successful mastectomy and re-constructive surgery.
“I told (my surgeon) I was experiencing some symptoms, such as clutching, grabbing pain in my right breast,” said Coates, adding she was also experiencing other symptoms, almost like numbness in her right hand. “I would be holding a glass and it would fall out, and I couldn't open jars or use a can opener.”
The surgeon, noted Coates, said it was all a normal part of healing.
“I couldn't (even) take a proper deep breath,” said Coates. “I felt there was an elephant sitting on my chest. I feared that my cancer had spread to my lungs. All scans came back clear but the symptoms persisted.”
The surgeon insisted there was nothing wrong with Coates.
At the same time, the Orillia resident said she started experiencing symptoms similar to tendonitis.
“I thought maybe I had carpel tunnel,” she recalled. “I went and had chiropractic treatment, which helped, but I would have to keep going back.”
Repeat visits to the surgeon didn’t result in any positive answers, said Coates.
“It was very difficult for me to keep going back to my surgeon and she wouldn't listen to me,” said the 62-year-old. “It made me feel she was trying to say it was all in my head. Having to deal with medical professionals who don't listen to you makes you depressed. You feel there's nobody who understands what you're going through.”
And then she stumbled upon a group of women who understood exactly what she was going through.
While doing research online Coates discovered a healingbreastimplantillness.com, a website managed by a woman in Victoria, BC. This discovery led Coates to a closed Facebook group on which thousands of women had listed similar symptoms.
Reading up on the research shared by members of the group, Coates once again decided to share the information with her surgeon.
“She totally dismissed that it could have anything to do with the implants — but offered to remove them,” she said.
However, Coates was already dubious of her surgeon’s expertise in the field and wanted to go to somebody more experienced with explants.
“I did some more research and found a list of recommended surgeons who do explants and went to a surgeon in Toronto,” she said, talking about her implant removal surgery in October.
“As soon as I woke up from surgery, I could breathe again,” said Coates. “That was the very first thing I noticed right away.”
After about a week, she tried to test her hand strength — everything seemed to be fine.
Earlier in the year, she had also developed redness in her right eye, which she attributed to the use of contact lenses.
“That was also gone immediately after the surgery,” said Coates.
During research, she also found a product guide on Mentor, the manufacturer of the implant that was in her body.
“Surgeons are supposed to give (the product guide) to their patients,” said Coates. “It listed all of the side effects that I had been experiencing.”
She said she learned that breast implants had been taken off the market by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the '80s, because of the side effects. But, Coates added, companies successfully lobbied the government to let them bring back after making some changes.
This year, a group of women lobbied the FDA to get a hearing with them, so a group of women in Canada decided to replicate that effort to approach Health Canada.
“We approached (Simcoe North MP) Bruce Stanton to help us bring a petition forward to the House of Commons,” said Coates. “Basically, what we're asking for is for Health Canada to form an independent committee to conduct a hearing to examine the correlation between breast implants, autoimmune disease and anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL).”
The petition is also asking for more transparency about side effects from the manufacturers.
“We also want plastic surgeons to be held to a higher level of accountability and informed consent,” said Coates. “And require mandatory testing for ALCL on women who have had textured implants.”
The Minister of Health, Ginette Petitpas Taylor, issued a statement on Nov. 29 stating, “As minister of health, protecting the health and safety of Canadians is my top priority. I am deeply concerned by recent reports of serious issues Canadians have been facing with implanted medical devices.”
Health Canada announced last week that it will put forward tougher requirements for foreign device maker and also form an advisory committee on women’s health focusing on breast implants, vaginal meshes, and contraceptive devices.
Other reforms set to roll out in 2019 include rigorous approval of new medical devices for implantation into Canadians; Canadian hospitals will be required to report medical device incidents; and Health Canada will have the power to force device manufacturers to conduct safety assessments, tests and studies on their products.
“Every once in a while a young woman will join the Facebook group and ask about getting implants,” said Coates. “I think it's a good eye opener for them when the group tells them it's not good for their health. And not only that, it's also not something medical professionals know a lot about.”
The petition she started with Stanton’s help is online (https://petitions.ourcommons.ca/en/Petition/Details?Petition=e-1962) and has already received close to 1,400 signatures.
“We needed 500 signatures, but we want at least 5,000, because we feel it gives a better representation of Canadians,” said Coates.
“No women go around talking about their breast implants because most women I know think it's a secret,” she added. “I would really love to see other women not have to go through this. I know there are women in Orillia who have breast implants, and they need to know there are definite risks and they need to be looking into the risks and be aware of them.”
Read more (https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-health-products/medical-devices.html) about Health Canada’s action plan on medical devices.