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Lauren Hicken, 31, from Worcestershire, had a smooth pregnancy and had hoped for a natural birth. But, when she didn’t dilate more than 3cm, she was rushed in for an emergency c-section.
Lauren welcomed daughter Niyah last spring and was quickly discharged from hospital, which is when her ordeal began.
“Back home, I expected my stomach to shrink so I was baffled when it grew rounder and harder,” she told Fabulous Online.
“Then I began to suffer with stomach pains that were so bad that I couldn't even cuddle Niyah without wincing in agony.”
At her six-week postnatal check, Lauren showed the midwife her swollen stomach, but was told it was nothing to worry about.
Unconvinced, she went to see her GP, who agreed it wasn’t anything serious and prescribed her strong painkillers.
Lauren said: “There was no way I could let this go. I knew my own body and I was sure something was very wrong.”
She returned to the doctors and requested a scan. She was “gobsmacked” when the results showed nothing unusual.
“By now, the pain in my lower abdomen was unbearable,” she said. “I requested a CT scan and after having it, waited nearly three weeks for the results, hoping that it would shed some light on the pain.”
The doctor told Lauren she had an incisional hernia, which can occur when an incision is made in the abdominal wall and sometimes happens following a C-section.
Four months later, Lauren met with a consultant who told her the hernia was a staggering 38cm long.
“My jaw dropped in shock. I had something in me the size of a large watermelon – how on earth was it not spotted in the first scan?” she said.
“Back home, I struggled to look after my baby while suffering with the most horrendous pain. I couldn’t understand the delay – I needed surgery and I needed it quick.”
Lauren then received a letter referring her to a bariatric team for weight management. The appointment was for January.
But then things took a turn for the worse. “One day, in December, I’d just put a pizza in the oven for dinner before snuggling up on the sofa with Niyah to watch TV,” she said.
“Suddenly, I screamed and bent double in excruciating pain. Then I started violently vomiting. I managed to grab my phone and call 999, then my mum.”
Lauren’s mum looked after Niyah and she was rushed to hospital in an ambulance.
“I was taken into theatre and then everything went black,” she said. “When I came round, I was in intensive care and I’d been put on a ventilator. Then a surgeon came to see me.
What is an incisional hernia?
An incisional hernia is a hernia that occurs through a previously made incision in the abdominal wall, i.e. the scar left from a previous surgical operation.
The incision will have been made in order to get to an internal organ such as the appendix, or a caesarian section.
After that previous operation, the surgeon will have had to close the layers of the abdominal wall with stitches.
Sometimes this closure simply comes apart, fails to heal properly in the first place or just comes apart with time.
It is estimated that at least 12-15% of abdominal operations lead to an incisional hernia.
“He told me the hernia had strangulated my bowel – cutting off my blood supply – and he’d pushed the hernia back in, which was now being held in place with mesh and over 300 staples. He also explained I’d had 90cm of my small intestine removed, because it had been infected with gangrene.”
Lauren was discharged from hospital on Christmas Eve. “But the next day, I felt awful. A nurse arrived to dress my wound, which leaked so much fluid that it soaked through two towels,” she said.
Lauren’s mum took her to A&E where doctors believed she had suspected sepsis.
“Before I knew it, I was back in theatre having another operation, this time to remove infected tissue,” she said.
“Afterwards, I was horrified to see my butchered stomach – I’d been left with a huge, cavernous hole that stretched the whole way across.
“Feeling utterly miserable, I stayed in hospital for three and a half months undergoing further operations and blood transfusions.
“When I was finally allowed home, I was so relieved to see Niyah and the moment she wrapped her arms around me, I didn’t want to let her go.”
Now, the wound is a lot better but Lauren still has a small hole and scarring above her pubic bone.
“I complained to the NHS, asking why they didn't operate when the hernia was first found, leading to emergency intervention. They have denied negligence and claim I was treated adequately,” she said.
“They insist there was no delay and that the bariatric clinic advised they would not operate due to my BMI and weight management programme. But I think a simple operation could have saved me so much pain, as well as time and resources.
“I still have to take morphine every day for the pain and doctors say my body is rejecting the mesh, but that I could die if they remove it. I can no longer work and have major issues with my digestive system.
“I’m so upset that a potentially small problem spiralled out of control, which resulted in me having part of my bowel removed and me taking painkillers for life, not to mention nearly killing me.
“Now I’m trying to move on and I’m just grateful that Niyah, two, didn’t lose her mum. I’m lucky to be alive.”
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