Call centre worker becomes ‘England’s Erin Brockovich’ to help take on drugs giant
Jan turned campaigner after years of suffering (Image: Julian Hamilton/Sunday Mirror)
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A humble call centre worker from Warrington has become “England’s Erin Brockovich” after being hired to help sue a drugs giant.
Jan Faulkner was virtually housebound, in agonising pain and relying on a walking stick after being fitted with an Essure contraceptive implant.
After years of debilitating side effects, mum-of-five Jan said she felt like she was “dying from the inside out”.
Essure was later removed from sale. But, determined to help women who suffered like she did, Jan began a support group for people to share their stories.
Her campaign was seen by a law firm which secured millions in payouts to women in the US who had used Essure.
Julia Roberts stars in 2000 movie Erin Brockovich
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They offered Jan a role and she travels far and wide, enlisting women taking action against Essure makers Bayer Pharma.
Jan, 48, says: “I was so poorly, then I went from a call centre to being part of a big law firm, travelling the world and taking on this huge pharmaceutical giant.
“I feel like Warrington’s answer to Erin Brockovich.”
Julia Roberts won a Best Actress Oscar for playing the title role in the 2000 movie about Erin.
The Essure anti-pregnancy coil caused Jan an intense amount of pain
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Legal clerk Erin, now 60, took on American utilities giant Pacific
Gas and Electric over the alleged contamination of drinking water in the Californian town of Hinkley.
A lawsuit was settled for a record $333million and Erin received $2million. She became a leading activist on environmental issues.
Jan’s tale of woe goes back to 2011. She had to give up work and suffered anxiety attacks and depression.
Jan Faulkner set up a support group to help other sufferers
(Image: Jan Faulkner)
She says: “My left leg would give way and my bladder totally shut down – I had no control over going to the toilet.
“I was struggling even to be a mum. I couldn’t bend to tie my own shoelaces, let alone anyone else’s.
“I remember saying to my husband Lee that I felt like I was dying from the inside out. Yet for five years the doctors couldn’t work out what was wrong.”
Jan opted for a contraceptive implant after having her kids – Katie, 27, Jason, 24, Sean, 16, Owen, 15 and William, 13.
In 2008, she was offered Essure at Warrington Hospital, a couple of miles from her home in Great Sankey.
Jan says doctors told her it was a non-surgical procedure and that she would be up and about straight away.
Essure implants are flexible metal coils that sit inside each fallopian tube, causing scar tissue to build – blocking the tube and preventing pregnancy. But three years after the procedure Jan’s nightmare began. She recalls: “I was working in a water company call centre. One morning I tried to get up from my desk and that was it, I was in agony.
“There was this shooting pain from my left hip. I could hardly stand.”
Jan’s list of symptoms steadily grew. As well as the pain she was exhausted, could “barely lift a mug of tea” and began suffering with bladder incontinence.
A hoody message to 'Keep calm and fight Essure'
(Image: Jan Faulkner)
“I had to give up work, I couldn’t even drive,” she says. “My life was in tatters.”
Over five years she had MRI scans, brain scans, saw doctors, specialists, a bladder nurse and had physiotherapy.
But it made no difference. It wasn’t until she read online about an America woman who had complications that things slotted into place.
Jan says: “I showed Lee and he said ‘When did you write that?’ I said it wasn’t me, but it could be. She was describing my life.”
Jan’s implants were removed four years ago. “It was an incredible day,” she says. “I hobbled in on a stick and strode out a new woman, like they’d flipped a switch. The pain disappeared and my bladder started working. I’d been given my life back.”
Jan wrote to the US Essure support group to share her experience. She realised women across the world had similar stories.
Bayer decided to permanently withdraw the Essure sterilisation device from the market in the European Union as of May 30, 2017.
They confirmed women already implanted could continue to use it – and removal is not necessary for women not presenting symptoms.
Jan and five other women she met online formed the support group Life After Essure UK. It has 1,300 members and they are petitioning to extend the time limit for legal action. In 2018 she flew to Las Vegas to meet some American counterparts and celebrate news Bayer was discontinuing Essure there.
Jan was among eight women who presented testimonials to Baroness Cumberlege at the House of Lords.
The fight was mounting. Then a friend showed Jan an advert from global law firm PGMBM seeking women “affected by Essure’”.
Jan emailed her story and soon got a call. In 2019, one of the firm’s US partners met Jan and Lee in Liverpool and offered her a job. She recalls: “We went for dinner on the Thursday and I was at work the following Monday.
Jan is Warrington's answer to Erin Brockovich, famously played on screen by Julia Roberts
(Image: Julian Hamilton/Sunday Mirror)
“I don’t have any legal experience, there were all these clever paralegals and little old me!”
It is estimated tens of thousands of women in the UK alone were fitted with an Essure implant. Jan is a liaison officer supporting women who want to be part of the lawsuit.
She goes on: “I’m on call 24/7, talking to women who’ve suffered horrendously. They’ve been so incapacitated they’ve lost jobs, homes, some even lost their kids. The battle has taken over my life but I owe it to other women to keep fighting. They’re so relieved someone is finally listening to them.”
PGMBM solicitor Lisa Lunt is Jan’s boss and confirmed proceedings against Bayer were issued a fortnight ago on behalf of 102 women. She is still working “24/7” to build the UK case.
In September the world’s first Essure settlement saw Bayer agree a sum $1.6billion to compensate US victims.
Karen Tait, head of PR and media relations at Bayer, said: “Patient safety is the greatest priority at Bayer and we investigate reports of side effects of all our medicines and medical devices thoroughly.
"We stand behind the positive benefit risk profile of Essure, demonstrated by extensive research by Bayer and confirmed by independent expert reviews.
"Research includes more than 40 clinical trials and real-world observational studies conducted pre and post-approval over 20 years and involving 270,000 women.
"We will not comment on individual cases nor discuss ongoing litigation.”
To view Jan’s petition visit: petition.parliament.uk/petitions/548976