UK breast implant victims want answers

Defective implant victims want answers
Defective implant victims want answers

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Story highlights

  • A UK woman with implants worries about leaking silicone from her implants
  • A French company is accused of using industrial grade silicone
  • The French government has agreed to pay for replacement surgeries there
  • Officials: the silicone is prone to rupture, but pose no immediate health risk
When Rowena Macintosh was deciding on whether or not to get breast implants, she told the operating surgeon that she was concerned about leaking silicone from the implants.
So he placed in front of her an implant and sliced it open to show her how the silicone remained solid inside, assuring her it would not spill out into her body. She said it looked like jelly candy.
"When I was told that there was absolutely no chance of this breast implant leaking because of this 'jelly baby effect', if you like. Well, that was about 50% of the decision because it felt safe and it was guaranteed for 25 years," Macintosh told CNN at her home in Bournemouth.
"I didn't think to check the manufacturer ... because it's not something you do. You go to someone who's supposed to be medically qualified and you trust them," she said. "When you go to a doctor, you don't say: Who makes your medicine? You just assume they're going to be safe."
The manufacturer was PIP -- the bankrupt French company that appears to have used industrial grade silicone intending for stuffing mattresses inside breast implants. Now, there are concerns that PIP implants are also more prone to leaking and rupturing.
French authorities announced last month that the government would pay for the removal of the bankrupt company's implants. Authorities in France and England have dismissed fears of cancer from the implants, but have said the devices are prone to rupture and could cause inflammation, scarring and fibrosis.
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Los implantes PIP
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More than 500 French women have had the implants removed since last year, according to the French government agency that evaluates the safety of medical products. Since then, more than 1,000 implants have ruptured, the agency said.
Months after her surgery, Macintosh says she began to get burning and stabbing pains in the area. More recently, she has found a hard mass in one breast. She fears that her PIP implants have leaked and she wants them removed and replaced immediately.
"It's like a ticking time bomb inside me. Until someone says you can have them taken out and put back in again, I'm going to be worried," Macintosh says.
The problem: Who will pay for the operation? Britain's National Health Service does not pay for cosmetic surgery, so an estimated 95% of breast implant operations are done in private clinics.
But now that women are demanding PIP implants be removed, some clinics are refusing to treat them.
Rowena Macintosh says she saved up and paid almost $8000 for her breast implants, including surgery and after care. But the clinic refused to giver her a scan to detect ruptures, she says, and also declined to consider removing and replacing the implants until there was a proven problem.
The clinic refused to comment to CNN citing privacy concerns.
"I think ultimately it's the surgeons and the clinics, whoever bought the implants and certified their use, that should be held responsible," she says.
The British government agrees, but says there is still no statistical data to show that PIP implants are either toxic or more prone to rupturing.
"Our advice remains the same that there is not sufficient evidence to recommend routine removal. We have always recommended that women who are concerned should speak to their surgeon or GP," British Health Secretary Andrew Lansley in a statement. "The NHS will support removal of PIP implants if, after this consultation, the patient still has concerns and with her doctor she decides that it is right to do so.
"We believe that private healthcare providers have a moral duty to offer the same service to their patients that we will offer to NHS patients -- free information, consultations, scans and removal if necessary," Lansley said.
But if clinics do not follow through, he added, the National Health Service will be called upon to step in and support patients. Ultimately, taxpayers may have to foot the bill in some cases.
That's not what Rowena Macintosh wants. She wants the private clinic and surgeon to pay to remove and replace the PIP implants as soon as possible, but she realizes that may not happen until after a long legal battle.
She doesn't regret the decision to get implants, she says, but she does wish she had chosen a different, more discerning clinic.
"And to think I've got mattress silicone inside me and God knows what else they used," she grimaces over a cup of tea in her kitchen. "It's just disgusting, really."