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OK, it may be a taboo subject for some, but many women have a secret they rarely tell anyone about.

They leak. They leak when they laugh, they leak when they cough, and, sometimes, well, you know.

For Teresa Sawyer, of Curtice, being diagnosed with Stress Urinary Incontinence was a huge hassle. SUI, according to the Mayo Clinic, is the unintentional loss of urine. Stress incontinence is prompted by a physical movement or activity, like coughing, sneezing or heavy lifting that puts pressure (stress) on the bladder.

More common in women, according to the Mayo Clinic, stress incontinence occurs because of poor function in the muscles that support the bladder or control the release of urine.

Childbirth may result in poor function of the pelvic floor muscles because of tissue or nerve damage incurred during the delivery of a child. Stress incontinence, according to the clinic, may begin soon after delivery or occur years later.

Other risk factors include being overweight, having diabetes, smoking, and having previous pelvic surgery.

“Both of my sons were nine pounds at birth,” Teresa said. “I also lost 75 pounds, so my muscles were not what they used to be. My doctor suggested a surgical mesh implant to support my bladder and stop the SUI.”

In February 2011, Teresa had the Transvaginal Ethicon Mesh inserted to help support her bladder. By March, the mesh was starting to come out through her cervix.

Her husband, Dave, recalled the nightmarish ordeal.

“She had surgery to take the mesh out. We were told it was all out of her,” Dave said. “In April, her doctor cleared us for sex and we found more of the mesh, trying to get out. Since then, she (Teresa) has had 25 infections and five surgeries. This is worse than the silicone breast implants. We just got back today from the doctor because she has another infection.”

For Teresa, the pain of dealing with her body’s reaction to the mesh has been unbearable. She blames the mesh for her increased pain from rheumatoid arthritis, as well.

“For the last 18 months, I have had to sit or lie down,” Teresa said. “It was killing me and I could not do a thing. I thought I was going to die. I was afraid to sleep because I was sure that I would not wake up.”

Her desperation and physical pain forced her to write a “good bye” letter to her sons, Michael, 21, and Joshua, 23.

"One night, I emailed my sons and told them good bye,” she said. “I really thought I was going to die. I made them promise me that if something happened to me, they would spread the word and tell other women not to get the mesh.”

A former manager at Elder-Beerman, Teresa has been unable to work through all of this. Dave, a carpenter and handyman by trade, has also been unable to work steadily. He has since been diagnosed with diverticulitis.

“When you live your life in hospitals and emergency rooms, it is hard to start a job not knowing if you will have to leave the job in the middle of it because your wife may have developed another infection or need surgery,” Dave explained. “This has cost us everything. We have sold everything we could, including my tools just to survive.”

Although Medicaid has paid for the medical costs Teresa has had, the couple was forced to sell their items in order to keep up with house payments as well as pay for the cost of daily living.

At press time, Teresa was battling yet another infection. The couple has been under the care of a physician at the Cleveland Clinic. According to Dave, Teresa will have to undergo more surgeries in order to get the remnants of the mesh out.

“This has been like coming out of a war,” Dave said. “This has cost us our whole life. Until all of the mesh is out, we will not have any peace.”

A Family Fun Festival Fundraiser will be held on Saturday, April 7 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Millbury Fireman's Rec Hall, located at 28410 Oak St., in Millbury. Activities will include a Golf Cart Show, raffles, kids’ games, a craft show, bake sale and food. All proceeds are going towards the David and Teresa Sawyer Medical Assistance Aid.

The couple has retained an attorney to go after the maker of the mesh, Ethicon, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson.

The first Ethicon Gynecare pelvic mesh lawsuits are scheduled to go before a jury near the end of next year in New Jersey state court.

Judge Carol E. Higbee, who is overseeing the consolidated lawsuits in New Jersey Superior Court, has scheduled the first of a number of Ethicon Gynecare test cases to begin in November 2012. To date, more than 350 lawsuits have been filed in New Jersey.

The couple has set up a web page detailing the health issues Teresa has faced since getting the mesh. The page also contains links to more information on the mesh as well as stories of others who have also had issues. For more information, visit http://sawyershandymanservices.com/Meshedup.html.

The couple is also in the process of setting up a foundation to help other women dealing with issues related to surgical mesh. For more information, visit http://tvtno.org.

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