An additional court case in the PIP breast implant scandal is being launched on Monday. Victims are asking for financial compensation to at least alleviate their psychological pain. Lisa Louis met one of them in London.
A fourth court case will be launched on Monday in France against TÜV Rheinland, the German certifier accused of having validated breast implants by French company PIP. The implants were filled with chemical-grade silicone instead of the medical variety.
More than 20,000 victims are part of the first three procedures. They are asking for billions of euros in compensation.
PIP is believed to have provided implants for up to 400,000 women around the world. The company went bankrupt shortly after the scandal broke in 2010.
Many victims, like Tracy Kiss, are still suffering from health problems.
"It means a lot to me to be here today — to be strong and not to be that weak mess that I became because of PIP," the amateur bodybuilder tells DW while lifting weights in a gym near London.
Kiss' fighting spirit helped her pull through the most difficult time in her life six years ago. Her breast implants had ruptured and were leaking while she was pregnant with her second child.
"My chest was collapsing. I could hardly breathe. I thought, if I can't even hold my newborn baby, what's wrong with me? I was bed-bound, stuck and completely helpless when [I should have been] the strongest and the most confident. I felt like a pensioner," she said.
What's more, four days after the implants were taken out and replaced by safer ones, her fiancé left her. He couldn't take her weakness, she says, which left her depressed.
"I detested myself because I'd caused this by having a surgery I didn't need," she said. "I could have lived with my naturally disfigured breasts and learned to love myself. I was hiding away. I waited several months until I could actually stop crying over it, until I could stop mourning the agony that I went through."
But then, she decided to fight back — and discovered she wasn't alone. Kiss joined one of the court cases against German company TÜV Rheinland and has already received some compensation.
Her lawyer Olivier Aumaitre says about 5,000 victims have so far joined the fourth procedure.
He is convinced the certifier will have to pay — especially since the French Supreme Court recently overturned a ruling clearing TÜV Rheinland of negligence.
"It's now very obvious to everybody that they have a responsibility. They should come to the negotiating table to restore their image," he said.
Fraud was 'impossible to detect'
But TÜV Rheinland says it, too, was a victim of fraud by PIP.
"They had set up a perfect system of dissimulation with falsified documents and employees who were very good at lying," the company's lawyer, Cecile Derycke, said.
"It was impossible to detect that something was wrong. The fraud was discovered thanks to a denunciation," she added.
She also said it was not TÜV Rheinland's job to check the actual products.
"My client had to certify that the company was able to produce such breast implants and that their design followed the standard regulations, " she explained.
"This was done through the review of paper dossiers and during audits on site which included observations of processes and interviews. In compliance with the law, and because it had no indication to suspect PIP's fraudulent activities, TÜV Rheinland had no reason to, and did not take product samples."
An important part of the healing process
Kiss is hoping French courts will prove TÜV Rheinland wrong, which would be an important part of her healing process.
"We all need to know that this is actually being taken seriously, that there is legal backing behind this," she told DW.
She still has her former breast implants at home — as a reminder to keep fighting.
"This leaking, disgusting mass is what went into me," she uttered while holding them above her bathroom sink. "It's toxic, industrial chemicals. My baby was in my womb. I was breastfeeding."
Kiss still suffers from inexplicable symptoms. "My eyesight has deteriorated. I have digestive problems and sometimes feel like I'm suffocating," she explained.
But she has also come out stronger: "You have to hit rock bottom to reach your best because if you live every day as a casual average, you never fully appreciate anything. I have a second chance in life. I am possibly happier than I've ever been — the smallest things mean so much to me now," she said.
Kiss has learnt to love herself again. And found new love. She and her boyfriend are looking forward to the final ruling — even if it could still be years away.