A Nova Scotia man believes he's facing debilitating pain because of a hernia repair mesh that's under a recall by Health Canada.

Eric Hagen, 86, said the pain at his surgery site became unbearable when it flared up again early last week. 

"I can't describe it today in words how much it hurt. I didn't think anything could hurt that much," he said.

There are many brands of surgical meshes that can be implanted along or inside the abdominal wall to help strengthen the repair, and prevent a recurrence, which is a common issue with hernia repairs.

Hagen said he received the Ethicon Physiomesh as part of a hernia repair at the Dartmouth General Hospital in 2012. The material was inserted into his abdomen as part of the surgery.

"The surgeon, she told me that she used the mesh," Hagen said, because at the time, "this is a new thing."

Buckled under the pain

His repair gave him no trouble until one morning this March while he was chatting with a neighbour in his driveway. 

"All at once it just hit me, and I was to my knees," he said. 

Eric Hagen

Mesh was inserted into Eric Hagen's abdomen when he underwent hernia surgery in 2012. He started experiencing acute pain in that area about five years later. (Robert Short/CBC)

Physiomesh was introduced in 2010 by Ethicon, a manufacturer of surgical supplies owned by Johnson & Johnson. 

The coated polypropylene mesh was designed to be inserted laparoscopically into the abdomen, and reinforce the site of a hernia repair.

The company voluntarily withdrew Physiomesh from the market in May 2016.

It wasn't the first time the company chose to pull its surgical mesh products. In 2012, it recalled surgical mesh implants used to treat women's pelvic organ problems following injury claims and lawsuits.

Product recalled in Canada

In an email statement to CBC News, the company said it withdrew Physiomesh after it discovered the product was responsible for more failures and repair operations than other meshes on the market. 

Health Canada recalled the product later that month.

Siskinds, a law firm from London, Ont., is applying to certify a class action lawsuit on behalf of Canadian patients who have had problems with Physiomesh. 

Similar lawsuits are already underway in the United States. 

"What happens is, we allege, is that it triggers major complications," said Jane McCartney, a lawyer with Siskinds. "It moves, and then people have mesh that's either pulled apart or moved, and isn't doing the job it was put in to do."

Range of complications possible

McCartney said these issues can lead to a range of complications from minor discomfort to debilitating pain and a recurrence of the hernia. 

The Nova Scotia Health Authority can't say how many Nova Scotians received the mesh, as those records are kept by hospitals and surgeons.

Eric Hagen's coffee group

For years, Eric Hagen has hosted friends and neighbours for coffee at his home on Wake Up Hill Road in Marriotts Cove, N.S. (Robert Short/CBC)

Health Canada does not track how many times a medical product is used in Canada. McCartney said she believes about 30,000 Canadians received Physiomesh in Canada, an estimate she makes based on U.S. data. 

She said the same data indicate the mesh fails in roughly 10 per cent of cases. 

'Don't panic' surgeon says

A surgeon in Dartmouth said he regularly used Ethicon Physiomesh to repair abdominal hernias. 

"In truth I liked it. It was easy to use. It was relatively easy to put in. The results were pretty good, the patient legitimately was comfortable," said Dr. Alex Mitchell, head of surgery at the Dartmouth General Hospital. 

said Dr. Alex Mitchell, head of surgery at the Dartmouth General Hospital

Dr. Alex Mitchell, head of surgery at the Dartmouth General Hospital, says people who had surgeries involving the mesh should only consult their doctors if they're experiencing pain or discomfort. (CBC)

Mitchell said hernia patients have no cause to be alarmed.

"If you've had a hernia repair with mesh and you are well, don't panic," he said. 

Mitchell said it's only worth consulting your family doctor if you're having ongoing pain or symptoms at the site of the hernia repair. 

'They should be alerted'

Meanwhile, Hagen said until recently he's taken pride in leading an active and independent life.

Eric Hagen

Eric Hagen says people who underwent surgery where the mesh was used should be forewarned in case they begin to experience symptoms. (Robert Short/CBC)

He painted his house last summer, changes the oil on his pickup truck and helps his neighbours get their lawn mowers started. But he believes it's all in jeopardy. 

"I'm worried I'm not going to be able to look after myself. Right now, I can't look after myself," he said.

Hagen said at this point he has no interest in joining a potential lawsuit. He only wants to raise awareness. 

1-8 months to see a surgeon

He believes patients who received a recalled mesh should be informed by the medical system. 

"They should be alerted, so they're forewarned," he said. 

Hagen said he's been referred to a surgeon for a hernia assessment, but the office won't begin scheduling new appointments until August.

According to Nova Scotia's health care wait times website, it takes between one and eight months to see a surgeon about a hernia. After that, it takes another one to eight months to schedule a hernia surgery.

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