A young woman’s life has turned upside down after a major complication with her birth control.
Two years ago, Cloe Westerway walked into her local women’s health clinic in order to get the Implanon rod put into her arm – a common birth control procedure that thousands of Australian women undergo each year.
The Implanon is a small, flexible rod that is inserted just under the skin of the inner upper arm, and is known to be a safe, effective and easy method of contraception.
However, after the procedure was over, the now 22-year-old, from Melbourne, told news.com.au that she began to feel some frightening and unexplained symptoms such as heartburn, nerve pain, heavy bleeding, vomiting, and heart palpitations.
The contraceptive rod slowly releases a progestogen hormone that will prevent pregnancy for up to three years, and is reported to be more than 99.9 per cent effective.
It is a common alternative to other birth control methods, such as the oral contraceptive pill that must be taken daily and an intra-uterine device (IUD), which is placed inside the womb.
After hearing about her worrying symptoms, doctors decided it would be best to take out the Implanon rod out to see if this would help Cloe – but when they went to remove it, they were met with a horrifying discovery.
It was no longer there.
“I really liked the Implanon, as I’d had it before when I was 15 and had a good experience,” Cloe, who works in office administration, told news.com.au.
“I preferred it over the contraceptive pill. It reduced my period pain and the heaviness of them, and it also meant that I didn’t have to worry about forgetting a tablet.
“When I decided to get it done again, I wasn’t nervous at all. It seemed really safe and the clinic does them multiple times a day.
“I didn’t have any issues straight away, but then I was having severe nerve pain, heartburn, palpitations and vomiting.
“Looking back, I realise I never actually felt it into my arm, and you are meant to be able to feel it. So obviously, it was not implanted properly.
“Doctors couldn’t figure out why I was so sick, so they decided to remove the Implanon but couldn’t find it.”
After multiple tests, doctors discovered that the Implanon had migrated from her arm and was now lodged in her heart’s pulmonary arteries.
The 4cm device travelled up into her right ventricle and then into the heart’s left chamber.
Cloe claims that specialists explained that the device was not inserted correctly, and had been implanted either directly into the vein or so close to it, that it damaged the vein, and therefore was able to fuse and migrate.
“After ten scans and blood work sent to the USA, the hospital finally found the rod lodged in my pulmonary artery, with the help of a fluoro X-ray,” she said.
“The doctors were absolutely shocked. They had no idea what to do or say, or how they were going to extract this.
“They told me it has never happened before. I was totally lost for words and absolutely terrified.”
Cloe will need to undergo major surgery in order to remove the rod from her heart.
She will first have lung surgery, likely followed by open heart surgery.
The recovery process after this will be gruelling – Cloe will need to spend a week in hospital, followed by 6-8 weeks time off work.
“I will be starting with lung surgery, so they cut from the start of my breast to my back and try to pull apart my lungs,” she explained.
“However, it is a small space and a far distance, so I have been advised that I will most likely need open heart surgery as well if they cannot get it.
“The recovery will be very painful. I won’t be able to lift anything, or even get up by myself.”
The rod lodging in her heart could have possibly killed Cloe if she had waited any longer to see a doctor.
She also fears about possible complications from the surgery, which is scheduled for the 28th of September at Melbourne’s new Victorian Heart Hospital.
The chance of a contraceptive rod migrating from where it has been implanted is rare.
No such cases have been widely reported in Australia, while a US study identified 38 cases of migration from 2006 to 2015.
If the device moves upward towards the hand, it can cause carpal tunnel symptoms, as well as pain in the axillary area and numbness throughout the arm.
However, it is more serious if it enters the blood stream and travels to the lungs, such as in Cloe’s case.
A spokesperson for Organon Pro, the company that distributes Implanon in Australia, told news.com.au they urge patients to speak to their doctor if they have any concerns about the contraceptive rod.
“Organon is a company dedicated to the health of women, and our first concern is always for the safety of our medicines and devices and the people who use them,” they said.
“We are confident in the research that supported the approval of IMPLANON NXT (etonogestrel) and its use in clinical practice around the world since its approval. As with all of our medicines and devices, we continually monitor the safety of IMPLANON NXT.
“In order to assist HCPs with the insertion and removal process, the Product Information for IMPLANON NXT contains instructions regarding the correct insertion and removal of the implant. Organon also supports clinical training programs for IMPLANON NXT for eligible health care providers to ensure that health care providers receive instruction and training on insertion and removal.
“If a patient feels that the implant has not been properly placed, or cannot feel the device in the arm, they should consult with their doctor immediately.”