A mum-of-two, who claims she can no longer have regular sex with her husband, blames a vaginal mesh implant, fitted to treat her incontinence after childbirth.
Left with severely impaired bladder control after the birth of her second child, Charlie, Cat Lee, 43, even suggested her husband could sleep with someone else.
Former Huddersfield University lecturer Cat said: “My poor husband, Gordon, was more like my carer. As for sex, it was strictly out of bounds because of the pain.
“I even suggested he could sleep with someone else. Luckily, he refused, saying it was me he loved.”
Cat now uses a mobility scooter and has retired early due to the pain she experiences on a daily basis.
Experiencing severe morning sickness and incontinence throughout her pregnancy, Cat, of Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, was keen to return to work as a visual culture lecturer, after having Charlie at Calderdale Royal Hospital, near Halifax.
She was the main breadwinner, while Gordon, 46, who works in web support, stayed at home to look after their son.
But Cat was mortified when her incontinence became so unmanageable that she wet herself at work.
Recalling the incident, she said: “I was so ashamed and humiliated.
“I’d gone back to work, six months after having Charlie, but I was still wetting myself.
“On this occasion, as I marched across the campus, I felt a rush between my legs. I’d wet myself and it had soaked right through the pad I’d been wearing.
“I was only 33, but I felt like a granny. I even had to ask a colleague to buy me some new tights, although I was too embarrassed to tell her why.”
Following her humiliating incident at work, Cat - who also has a daughter, Tash, 21, from a previous relationship – saw her GP. He referred her to a gynaecologist at Calderdale Royal Hospital, part of Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust.
Cat, who was planning to study for a PhD, was told she had stress incontinence and had a minor prolapse, which was affecting her bladder control.
She said: “I was fine when I had Tash, but with Charlie, I lost count of the times I wet myself when I was pregnant.
“Afterwards, though, it got worse and worse. Wetting myself at work was the final straw.”
When she was offered vaginal mesh surgery – a net-like implant used to treat pelvic organ prolapse and incontinence after childbirth – she jumped at the chance.
She recalled: “I was told it was a 20-minute procedure and, if it ended the misery of incontinence, it would transform my life.
“It was a type called TVTO, or Tension-Free Vaginal Tape Obturator.”
The surgery was scheduled for December 2, 2009 at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary – two weeks after her wedding to Gordon, at Todmorden Town Hall, near their Hebden Bridge home.
She said: “Gordon and I had known each other for 22 years and he’d proposed five years earlier at a local train station. He was my soul mate, so there’d been no rush to get married.
“We were married on November 21, 2009 and it was a perfect day.
“Charlie was an adorable page boy, while I felt like a Hollywood siren, in a silky burgundy gown.
“We decided not to have a honeymoon until after the operation, when, hopefully, we’d go somewhere I could swim in the sea.”
With her surgery imminent, Cat felt like everything in her life was falling into place.
But, when she woke from the anaesthetic on December 2, 2009, she experienced an intense burning, acid-like pain, starting in her left groin and spreading to the right side.
Given painkillers, she thought this must be normal after surgery. Discharged that day she was told to rest for six weeks.
Sadly, though, according to Cat, the pain never went away.
She said: “Despite spending days in bed, the pain was still as intense and debilitating for years after.”
In March 2010, she returned to work, but claims she could barely walk because of the burning feeling in her groin.
“I was in crippling pain, unable to walk or stand properly,” she said.
Referred back to Huddersfield Royal Infirmary by her GP, she was told the implant could take a year to settle.
As her pain persisted for the next few years, Cat researched the mesh implant and claims she discovered that some could cut into the vagina, causing severe discomfort.
She said: “By September 2011 – two years after the operation - I couldn’t even sit down because of the pain.
“Finally, at the end of 2012, I was referred to another hospital in Leeds for steroid injections and a Vaginal Wall Prolapse Repair - a procedure to repair the sinking of the vaginal wall. Still nothing worked and the pain persisted.”
By the summer of 2013, at her wits’ end, Cat retired because she was too unwell to work.
With time on her hands, she continued researching vaginal mesh surgery.
“I discovered a Harley Street doctor in London, who specialised in removing my type of mesh, for £10,000,” she recalled.
“We’d already started legal action against Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust, who run both Calderdale Royal Hospital and Huddersfield Royal Infirmary, so they agreed to pay the money as an interim payment and I went under the knife.”
Despite the doctor removing most of the mesh, Cat, who now uses a mobility scooter, claims the pain remains severe.
“Ten years on, I’m convinced that the so-called ‘simple’ vaginal mesh surgery has ruined my life,” she continued.
“Luckily, we didn’t want any more kids, but I don’t feel like proper mum to Charlie.
“I can only do the school run a few times a week and then, he has to walk alongside me in my mobility scooter.
“I can’t play with him like other mums and I don’t feel like much of a wife either.”
Cat claims all the surgery has also made her incontinence worse.
“I’m even more incontinent now than I was before,” she despaired.
“This year, Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust settled our legal claim, without admitting liability, paying me £375,000, minus the £10,000 for the Harley Street op.
“But that doesn’t make up for eight years I have lost.
“I’m now registered disabled, unemployed and can’t even go out for drinks with my girlfriends. ”
Cat, who says other women have also complained to the NHS, or the device manufacturer, about problems with the mesh implant, has now joined the Sling the Mesh campaign, calling for implant operations to be stopped.
“I want to help other women like me,” she added. “Since the operation, my life has been turned upside down. I’m convinced the mesh is the reason why.
“I don’t want another child like Charlie seeing their mum go through this.”
Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust’s director of Nursing, Brendan Brown, said: “Clearly this has been a distressing experience for Ms Lee. We have agreed a settlement out of court and as a result we are unable to comment further on this case.”