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Our Lives Are a Gift: Jennifer Nelson’s Story

By July 19, 2018Uncategorized

Jennifer Nelson is a member of Unplug the Robot, an awareness group for those harmed by da Vinci robotic surgery and those considering the surgery. In the founding member’s own words… “Unplug the Robot was formed out of frustration and concern for others. Frustration from our injuries. Frustration that they knew the potential existed for these injuries. Frustration that this Intuitive Surgical, the device’s manufacturer, puts profits before patient safety. By bringing public awareness to this issue and telling our own personal stories, it is our desire to bring light to this darkness. We sincerely wish for no one to suffer these truly horrific injuries or death as a result.”

Jen Nelson

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Nelson

I no longer fear death, and I am also a lot stronger than I ever thought I could be.

I am very thankful to see factual and well-researched documentaries, such as the Netflix Original film The Bleeding Edge, telling our stories and exposing the lies, negligence, and corruption of medical device companies.

Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci robot has a laundry list of recalls and an even longer list of deaths reported, known-product defects, and current trending failures (including breaking conductor wires in their robotic instruments, welding flaws, arcing, etc.). The very design of the da Vinci robot is defective as Active Electrode Monitoring (meant to detect insulation failures) is missing, and stray electrical currents burn and kill innocent patients. It is all there for the public to read in the FDA’s medical device adverse event database.

There was no education of the dangers of robotic surgery when I went in for my consultation with the OBGYN oncology surgeon prior to my total hysterectomy. I had a very large fibroid and several smaller ones within my uterus, and the recommendation for my ongoing bleeding and discomfort was to have this surgery. The clinic offered no options for this procedure other than the da Vinci, and I assumed that this must be the way all hysterectomies are performed. I went to the top clinic in the world for my surgery, so I believed them and asked no questions, as I assumed they were the subject matter experts.

To make a long and macabre story short, as a result of my da Vinci surgery I had three reparative surgeries, a colostomy, treatment for severe sepsis, a drain inserted for the abscesses, and a lot of physical therapy. I have pain always, deal with fecal impact since my colostomy reversal, can only sleep on my back, and live daily with a stomach that resembles what the Bride of Frankenstein’s might look like. I am lucky to have found other da Vinci survivors through Unplug the Robot. Many da Vinci survivors suffer painful long-term nerve damage. I believe I am one of the only survivors fortunate enough to be able to return to work full time. Most da Vinci hysterectomy survivors cannot sit for long periods of time, can never sit on hard surfaces, wake up with numbness in extremities, and have nerve damage that can bring them to their knees. I am lucky to have regained some semblance of a normal life, unlike many of the other survivors, who have not been able to resume anything resembling the life they once enjoyed.

One very cohesive and repeating theme in all of our lives is our story.  Our injuries might be different, but our stories all meld together with the same consistent message of education and responsibility.  Our lives have been irreparably changed, thus we are now strong advocates of patient education and corporate responsibility. Our lives are a gift we will not waste. Historically, women have been reluctant to tell stories like ours, and this silence has allowed the medical device industry to get away with, literally, murder, for too long. We are one voice reaching out to hospitals, clinics, and surgeons in educating the importance of warning patients of the dangers of the da Vinci robot; one voice advocating for those still too weak and recovering from the adverse outcomes of their da Vinci surgeries; one voice urging greater forced FDA regulation and quality control, 510(k) testing, recall remediation, and process improvement; and one voice demanding accountability from Intuitive Surgical for the past and present lives destroyed by the da Vinci robot.

If you or someone you care about has been adversely affected by a Da Vinci robotic surgery, please visit the Unplug the Robot Facebook page and send a message with your questions or comments.

Watch The Bleeding Edge on Netflix on July 27 to join the conversation on medical device safety.