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Day 14: Linda Gross v. Ethicon, Ms. Gross Takes the Stand

Linda Gross sworn in Day 14 trial

Linda Gross sworn in Day 14

January 31, 2013~  On this day 14 of the Linda Gross v. Ethicon trial in an Atlantic City, New Jersey courtroom, plaintiff Linda Gross took the stand.

Gross, 47, had the Prolift transvaginal mesh implant in 2006 and her story is one of a life permanently altered.

Thanks to Courtroom View Network for access to this trial.

By way of background, plaintiff attorney Adam Slater had Linda tell the jury why she chose to work as a hospice nurse. Her late father had been sick and died in hospice. Gross had been made an honorary pallbearer in the funeral of  man she knew for a short time while he was in hospice.

Those events led her to helping those who had six months or less to live. For Gross helping the terminally sick instilled a respect for life and was a reminder of the importance of enjoying everyday.

Linda Gross on the stand, Courtesy: Courtroom View Network

Linda Gross on the stand, Courtesy: Courtroom View Network

“The person who you see standing here is not who I was,” she told the jury. I was eager, energetic, loved to go to work participate in church and school activities. I took one day at a time and lived for it. God is such a strong person in my life and I hope he continues to get me through this difficult time.”

Slater had Gross recount the number of medications, 20 or so, she is currently taking to cope with chronic pain. Even during her testimony she had to stand, unable to sit longer than 20 minutes.

Slater: “How do you feel?”

Gross: “Exhausted. I have pain all the time inside my pelvic floor. The left side is quivering constantly, doing this all the time (she gestures). The way I try and control it to get it a little relief is if I lay in bed and extend my leg outward it takes the pressure off that pelvic floor bone. I constantly have rectal pain. I guess  the only way I can explain if you have had hemorrhoids, multiply that by ten. It feels like something is going to pull through my rectum with sharp pain. We’ve tried various treatments and they can’t break that spasm. ”

As a nurse Linda said she is aware that all of the medication she takes is hard on the kidney and liver.

“I cannot tell you how many days I’ve laid in bed and wondered what’s next for me,” she said to the jury.

Slater established that before her surgery in July 2006, Ms. Gross didn’t have pain, problems with sexual functioning and could sit at work. She didn’t have urinary issues and the surgery with sutures to shore up her pelvic prolapse did not give her pain.

Prolift package

Prolift package

How Linda Gross was Sold on Prolift 

Gross told the jury she visited Dr. Benson’s office, the surgeon who eventually implanted the Ethicon Prolift transvaginal mesh, after he diagnosed her with pelvic organ prolapse.

Dr. Benson had been trained by Ethicon on use of the mesh and taught other doctors how to implant the device.

“When I went into his office he did his exam. His options were Prolift. He was very excited about it. He pushed it. He said ‘I have a new revolutionary piece of mesh here we’ve been using with excellent results.’ He was very positive about it.”

Dr. Kevin Benson, implanted Prolift in Linda Gross

Dr. Kevin Benson, implanted Prolift in Linda Gross

But Dr. Benson didn’t have a patient pamphlet, so Gross says she went home and did research on the internet. She understood the mesh would be implanted with trocars, or large needles that would thread the mesh through her pelvic region anchoring into ligaments.  Dr. Benson discussed suture repair as an option, though Ms. Gross says he didn’t go into detail. He actually had a piece of mesh in his hand with four wings on it. In less than 10 days you’ll be back to work she was told.

Q: “Did he tell you any of the risks?”

A: “Infection, bleeding, is what I recall” she said.D14 linda and the risks in the brochure 400

 

Slater showed her the brochure she used to make her decision.

Reminding Linda Gross of Dr. Anne Weber’s testimony about what was NOT in the Prolift brochure, Slater showed a slide summarizing what critical information was missing.

Slater: “Were you comfortable with the long term results?

Gross: “Absolutely”

Slater: “Soft mesh sounded good?”

Gross: ” Yes it did, he never let me touch it, but he was squeezing it.”

Slater: “Specially designed for placement through the vagina?

Gross: “Yes.”

Slater: “Used on 1.5 million women, what did that tell you?”

Gross: “It told me it was out there and having positive results.”

Slater: “Is it important when they sell something it’s clinically proven?”

Gross: “Yes”

Dr. Anne Weber, CVN

Dr. Anne Weber, CVN

In summary, after Ms. Gross read the brochure combined with her doctor’s enthusiasm she didn’t think she need worry, and Johnson & Johnson was a worldwide company. She trusted what she was reading.

Days earlier, Dr. Anne Weber (right) had told the jury the rest of the story. See Day 6 of coverage here.

Dr. Weber told jurors about the complications associated with mesh that Johnson & Johnson did not include in the patient brochures, complications such as difficulty removing the mesh, its risky use in sexually active women, the potential for pain and mesh erosion.

Slater asked “Would that information have been significant to you?”  Yes, Ms. Gross answered.

D14  things linda wished she had known

 

Life After Mesh

Linda Gross

Linda Gross

Ms. Gross was asked why she took a risk with mesh?

“I was willing to take that chance if there was a chance I could get better,” referring to the rectocele prolapses he said.  In July 2006 she consented to have the Gynecare Prolift mesh, an entirely new transvaginal medical device delivered to doctors in pre-cut kits, implanted in her body.

Gross spent the rest of the morning recounting her life ever since. The mesh had formed a hard band around her abdomen. It was so tight it was causing stretch marks. She had the first of nine mesh removal surgeries at the Mayo Clinic. She then had a pain pump implanted. It began leaking and she developed an abscess and fistula that required an additional surgery.

Jurors were shown images that were not projected in the courtroom.

Then Ms. Gross had a spinal stimulator implanted to see if it would allow her to urinate normally. Medtronic adjusted it but made it too high and she leaked urine. At the Mayo Clinic last October she was injected with a nerve block and awakened part way through the surgery to see if it was hitting the correct nerve.

Remembering the surgery and snippets of the doctor’s voices as she was partially awakened, Ms. Gross began to cry. When she woke up, she said she was in unbelievable pain like labor giving birth.  It lasted five days as she lay in a hospital bed waiting for the medication to be absorbed.

“No one should have to go through this, it was just unbelievable,” she said through tears.

Liinda Gross on the stand

Liinda Gross on the stand

“I want to have a normal life, I don’t get to have that choice, it’s not an option anymore. Because I put my faith in people I respected.  And I found out it’s a journey others are going through too. But it’s not  fair – no one should have to experience it!”

Slater: “What is it like to have a life dominated by doctors?

Gross: “The exams are painful and humiliating.”

Gross said she has repeatedly experienced mesh coming out on its own. Gross has scheduled a visit to the Mayo Clinic’s pain clinic in March to try and learn how to live with the pain.

Slater asked if she can work or if she has tried to work.

After being fired from her job as a hospice nurse in 2010 for exhausting her family leave, Gross went back to work briefly in 2011 because the family needed the money. A friend had an assisted living facility and Linda would work for four hours on then would have to lay down for 2 hours in the facility. It got to be too much to handle.

“I tried and I tried many times to go back. I would do that because I needed to I wanted to and I’m not ready to give up. There is nobody there that can help you. It’s an awful feeling especially when you are doing a minimally invasive procedure.” she cried.

The one time she rallied was for her son, Terry’s wedding in October. The jury was shown pictures of a smiling Linda. She was able to dance one dance and had to excuse herself.

Dancing at son Terry's wedding

Dancing at son Terry’s wedding

“My friends quit calling me because they don’t know what to say. They cannot believe this is happening. And I put a lot of my trust in healthcare because of what I do.”

Gross says it takes days to recuperate from an outing. She must self-catheterize four times a day to urinate. She discussed using a morphine pump with the doctors at the Mayo Clinic but is concerned about the effect on her body.

“All the time I’m fearful about dying  and the effect on my kidney and liver functions and some has to do with the medications I have to take. It’s just beyond words.”

Christy Jones questions Linda Gross

Christy Jones questions Linda Gross

Cross Exam

It was Christy Jones turn to cross examine Ms. Gross.

Speaking in carefully measured tones she reviewed Ms. Gross background in  nursing. You learned in nursing school there were risks associated with surgeries, she asked. Among those risks might be those associated with anesthesia, potential damage to organs, the risk of scarring and adhesion?

“I’m not understanding your question,” said Ms. Gross on more than one occasion.

Linda Gross under cross examination

Linda Gross under cross examination

Jones: “In fairness that’s one of the things you learned in nursing school, when you implant a foreign body into the body there are also some additional or different  potential risks?”

Gross: “Yes, and I did ask a specific question to Dr. Benson regarding my procedure.”

Christy Jones then ran through the litany of ailments affecting Linda Gross from stress urinary incontinence in 2001, bleeding problems, a hysterectomy, which she chose over taking oral contraceptives, spinal headaches, gallbladder surgery. Clearly she was painting a picture of a woman plagued with problems.

Ethicon Attorney Christy Jones - Butler Snow

Ethicon Attorney Christy Jones – Butler Snow

Dr. Benson explained he would use trocars and the purpose of the mesh would be to grow into the body, she affirmed. There would be a risk of inflammation and nerve damage. Yes, Gross said.

Jones: “In the course of that, one of the things you understood it might be associated with an exposure of the mesh?

Gross: “When I asked Dr. Benson that question he said you go in and you remove it.”

Gross: “I researched Gynecare and I read it and it sold me. I based that on what I read in the patient brochure. I wasn’t looking for answers I was being told this so I made the decision to go with the Prolift.

Linda Gross

Linda Gross

At this point her anger escalated.

“That was my mistake. Why did I need to keep researching? You are trying to blame it on me! It’s not right!!”~Linda Gross

Judge Carol Higbee reminded Ms. Gross not to yell at counsel. At that point they took a break for lunch.

d8 seal of new jerey superior court  123

After lunch Adam Slater asked Ms. Gross if doctors continued to perform surgery on her. “Did you force them, stick a gun to their head?”  “I did not,”  she said.

Slater asked why she wanted the polypropylene (PP) mesh out of her body.

“My body is rejecting the mesh; it is horrific pain and every day every day I pay for it. These doctors at the Mayo Clinic were fearful of making me worse than I already am.  I find out mesh wings cannot be removed.”

“My vagina was on fire, we were able to calm it down with medications. Then in November it began to be found piece by piece”

Linda Gross

Linda Gross

The calm, soft spoken Ms. Gross told the jury about the surprise of physicians who have found mesh.

“Dr. White said ‘What the f*** is going on here!’ he told me that,” she said after another doctor found more eroding mesh particles in her pelvic region.

Judge Higbee warned she needed to be calm.

After a few questions about what the Prolift brochure which promised a “revolutionary” new product, the jury was sent out at 3:10 pm to formulate any questions it might have for the witness.

Dr. Patrick Retterath, pain doctor

Dr. Patrick Retterath, pain doctor

The jury came back and asked to see the video of witness Dr. Patrick Retterath, a pain doctor who has treated Linda Gross with pain blocks.

He confirmed pudendal nerve damage.

“You don’t have control of employment, enjoyment of their kids, they are overwhelmed in this case I was seeing that,” he said in his taped deposition.

On cross exam he was asked whether he could say whether scar tissue from repeated surgeries and not the mesh may be causing her pain.

A: “Chronically, it seems from the story presented it was isolated to that surgery and it seemed to be related to that mesh.”

Q: “You don’t have any information about irritation to the pudendal nerve prior to Prolift?

A: “She did not have those complaints to me.”

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11 Comments

  1. Lila Schaefer says:

    I am so irritated at the ethicon judges for trying to make it look like something else caused all this pain and disruption to her life. We have been friends for many years, I’ve watched her path to becomming a nurse while taking care of 3 little boys and the enjoyment she had being a nurse. she was very active prior to the surgery, I always gave her a bad time in the summer about having to book time with her because they were always on the go fishing and camping. This past year the friends they normally camp with stayed at a lake close to home hoping she could come out to visit, I believe she went one day didn’t stay long because of the pain which then makes her nauseas, clammy, and makes that muscle cont. to fire. This is only one way her life as changed . Apply that over and over again to anything that a normal 47 yr would do. There is so much more to my friend than what you are hearing and seeing in this court case. In our group of 7 , we all worked together in the emergency dept. and still try to get together once a month, she was the one we all looked to because of her common sense advice when we had problems. She always has been and still is a caring supportive friend to us, but there are times she can’t go with us because of her health. I miss all the times she would stop at our house where my sister does daycare to visit and would hold or play with the children while visiting, now she comes to town and goes back home if she stops its only for a few minutes. I could go on and on about how her life has changed but I think you get the picture. Even through all this her thought s have been that she feels bad there are so many others going through this terrible pain all because nobody had enough integrity to tell the truth about this product. We love you Linda….Hang in there….we are praying for you!

    • Lupita Tagle says:

      I just read where Linda is in court and can’t imagine what she is going through, of course the doctors blaming her that she new there were risks, what happen weren’t risks is was STUPIDITY from the doctors because they do not want to listen to the patient they do what they want. I told my GNY several times in front of his nurse LVN that I did not want the mesh period. For awhile I kept blaming my self why was I so ignorant believing the Doctor would listen to what I had said. He told me in front of his nurse and my son that he would not use the mesh and that’s exactly what he and the other Doctors did. I hope the public would pay attention to all that is going on with Mothers,daughters. niece,grandmothers, friends, all of us women that we wanted to be in better shape and the surgery just ruin us and some ladies are ruin for ever. How can Doctors sleep at night. Are any of you having problems hiring an attorney?? I have talk to quite a few and when they mail their letters or contract, I am told maybe I won’t be able to collect any money for myself and their will only be enough to pay attorneys fees and expenses. Another told me if I get some money I will only received it in installments through my life time depends how long I live? Another one told me he might have to travel in private jet, I am the one picking up the tab. I just pray and ask Jesus to guide me and give me the strength to get thru this night mare have no one to talk to. Ladies keep your faith strong and may THE LORD BLESS US ALL. Take Care

  2. Nonie Wideman says:

    Linda may God grant you some justice not only for your physical pain but also the emotional pain of exposing every humiliating experience, and reliving the losses you have suffered in court because of deceit on J&J’s part. Your story is coming across as being the story of many of us and I thank you for thinking of us amid your own pain. It has been tempting to ask doctors to try more interventions to help deal with my chronic pain but so many times I read of the things they do that seem to make things worse. Mesh was not designed to be removed and it seems like we are being experimented upon when doctors try to resolve our mesh complications. Trust in the medical community is fragile and mine is very fragile. Who do we trust now? Bless you sister hurt by mesh! You are holding up much better than I would !. Praying for you and your family!!! and for your lawyer!!!! May justice prevail and may the justice system bring change that should have been initiated by ethics and moral obligation.!!

  3. Jim says:

    My wife has this and I know how hard it is, and I applaude those husbands who stick it out. We love our wives it is not fair as Linda stated. We pray for all the other women that have this mess. My God reach down and touch each and every one who has this problem, remember We’ll be praying.

  4. Rhonda Duncan, Nurse Practitioner says:

    I am one of the 7 “Old ER Nurse’s Group” that get together approx once a month for continued friendship, staying in touch with each other’s lives as we all are growing older, unfolding of our children’s lives, and now our grandchildren. I meet Linda Gross ER Nurse and Hospice Nurse in 1999 when I started in the emergency room. Linda was a go to person, an experienced nurse to give a less experienced nurse, such as me at the time, suggestions guidance to care for patients in the emergent situations. Linda had a great personallity, sense of humor, and laughter. She always lived in the moment, paying attention to the details at hand, and to anticipate what may occur and to be prepared for the worse. That was the nurse in her. Our group of 7 use to get together at our lake cabin on Enemy Swim in SD, but in the summer of 2006 after Linda’s sugery she was in too much pain to attend. This was just the beginning of her long painful suffering journey of a surgical procedure that has changed her life, health, and well-being. I have been following the court percedings since the beginning, but feel very frustrated after reading about the critical information NOT in prolift IFU. Frustrated knowing important information was not given to women whom this product was to be impanted in, such as, warning of complications such as vaginal erosion and retraction can result in anatomical distortion of vaginal cavity interfere with sexual intercourse. Risk increased in patients with hx of hysterectomy. Must be taken in consideration when procedure planned in sexual active women. As a nurse, reading this warning would tell me this product is designed for much older women no longer sexual active and should NOT be placed into women with hx of hysterectomy. As a nurse, reading warning about No established surgical method to safety remove or revise mesh impossible to remove or revise all the mesh~tells me a company has made a product but the saftey of this product is not fully understool. As a nurse, reading warning surgery to remove and revise the mesh maybe complex require high level of skill experience~tells me it maybe difficult to find a surgeon who has worked with complications to this surgery. These warnings would give a nurse a HUGE RED FLAG. And as nurses we know that would alter our decision process. I give all my support to Linda Gross as she and her husband go through this court process. This was a very difficulty decision for them, I know, I am her friend. But, Linda did this so other wome do not need to suffer the constant unrelenting pain she suffers every day. Our prayers are with you Linda and Jeff that you both may have the strength to endure! Rhonda Duncan, Nurse Practitioner.

  5. Jane Akre says:

    Rhonda- You make an important point. It is a medical professional who would get the MOST out of IFU information or even a complete patient brochure. I hope Linda reads your words and finds comfort. Thank you for writing and standing by her. Stay well~ jane A.

  6. Melynda says:

    Oh. My. Stinkin’. Heck.

    I think my doctor and her doctor went to the same training meetings at Ethicon. Seriously. When I was reading through her testimony about what her doctor said to her when she was trying to make the decision to have the mesh implanted, I called my husband in and said, “You aren’t going to believe this! Let me read this to you and you tell me who this sounds like.” His first response: The name of the doctor who did my surgery (who also worked for Ethicon training others on how to implant the mesh.)

    My doc even had the Prolift on his desk and used the same phrase, “a new revolutionary piece of mesh. The only difference is he handed me the mesh to feel!!!! After holding it, I then handed it to my husband and I asked my doctor what other options I had other than the Prolift. His response was, “Why would you want those when we have the gold standard right here?” pointing to the mesh my husband was holding. My doctor was so enthusiastic and excited about the mesh, it should have been a sign but I didn’t know what I didn’t know back then but I know it now. Boy, do I know it now. 🙁

    Jane, if you have any contact with Linda, please let her know we are all praying for her that she will have a favorable outcome, that the jury will see this for what it truly is, a horrible device that should have NEVER been used in women’s most intimate parts.

  7. Betty says:

    I am once again sick! I know the lawyers are “just doing a job”. They like to parade around what others are making for their testimony. I’d like to see their paychedks. It is so ubsurb to blame the patient. I have lived this life that Linda is leading. I had a child get married during this time and had to leave early also. The heartache this brings is unexplainable, unless you’ve been there. To actively sell a product known to be harmful from their own testimony, to any Dr. who would pay for it, not “specially” trained Dr.’s. I know of no qualifications needed to purchase this product that is permanent.(It waa for sale on ebay for heavens sake!!) To expect that some women may be harmed at all is outrageous, to add insult to injury is just unacceptable. I pray the jury can see through their sham defense. They’re using her knowledge as a nurse against her. To me it just shows how hidden it all was. No one in their right mind would go for this surgery knowing this could be the complication.. We don’t just willingly submit our sex drives with husbands on the altar of maybe. We were lied to! Plain and simple. Dr..’s were lied to. I understand Linda’s anger, and although she had to be reminded by the judge to be in control, I hope the jury sees just how badly she has been hurt. “A Johnson & Johnson” Company. Used to mean caring, integrity and honesty. Now it means stocks and meetings. Greed is the style of today. I’m praying for you Linda, I’m praying for us all. It is unbelievable that it has made it this far. Women have died!!!!! They know it. They’ve been getting away with so much for years, that this doesn’t phase them.. Depraved indifference. This whole thing is just sickening. What a crazy mixed up world we live in.

  8. Stacy Stroud says:

    How much longer do you guys think this trial will last? Just curious because my Mom is up next and we r wanting this to hurry up accept they messed up and deal with it…then off to the next case, so on and so on

    ~Stacy Stroud

    • Jane Akre says:

      Stacy- Judge Higbee said today that the plaintiff side will wrap up Tuesday then the defense begins. I would think they would take two weeks may be three.. about the same time as the other side. All of this is just guessing of course. The will not take long lunches but will order out lunch and eat in per Jjudge Higbee starting next week. Everyone wants to get this over.

      • Stacy Stroud says:

        Jane..I’m a little confused on something and was going to see I you could help me understand. As I said my Moms Lawyer Mark T Sadaka said that my moms case was next and they had been involved in this case for soapy amount of days then my Mom is next. Well, this ladle Ms Gross is at trial. Seems to me if my Mom was next she would know that she was fixing to go to trial. I’m guessing maybe he means she is next for the pre hearing or something. I’m just curious with all this press on Ms Gross my Mom would be more aware that she is fixing to go to trial even though she is beyond ready at any time. Anyways thanks for your time and I follow the page religiously!!! lol thanks for your hard work

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