|BONVOYAGE: Terri’s life has changed drastically — for the better — since her surgery. This fall,Terri is taking a trip to the Bahamas with her daughter and two nieces. “I would never have gotten on a plane before, knowing I’d be making so many trips to the bathroom,” she says. “Now I can travel wherever I want.”
Incontinence: Terri Merryman is Going on Her Own Terms
A year ago, Terri Merryman never would have considered taking a trip to the Bahamas. She barely traveled across town. Her difficulties with urinary incontinence had become so severe that every outing had to be measured by accessibility to a restroom.
“I was holding my family back from doing things,” says Terri, 51. “I felt pressure and heaviness in my pelvic area, and I was constantly urinating. I would sneeze or cough and lose urine uncontrollably. I would only go places really close by, but not drink anything while I was out. It felt like everything was dropping and falling out of me.”
Terri’s OB/GYN referred her to Anita Pillai-Allen, MD, medical director, Urogynecology, Holy Cross Hospital. Urogynecology is a subspecialty of OB/GYN focusing on female pelvic floor disorders, including urinary and fecal incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.
After a thorough evaluation, Dr. Pillai-Allen diagnosed Terri’s condition as prolapse of the bladder, uterus and rectum. The organs in the pelvic area are supported by muscles, ligaments and tissues. When the pelvic floor support is weakened or damaged, the pelvic organs can fall down or herniated through the vagina (prolapse).
“The loss of support of her urethra was also causing her urinary incontinence,” Dr. Pillai-Allen explains.
Expert Care Is Available
Urinary incontinence and pelvic floor prolapse have come to the forefront, Dr. Pillai-Allen says, because women today are living longer, staying active and becoming more informed. “When I first started practicing, my patients were mostly in their 60s to 80s. Now, I’m also seeing patients in their 30s, 40s, and 50s because they know you can do something about it,” she says.
The causes of prolapsed pelvic organs are varied and can impact women at different times during their lives. During child-bearing years, vaginal childbirth, the number of births and, in particular, larger babies may be factors in causing pelvic floor damage; both of Terri’s children weighed around 10 pounds at birth. Other factors such as aging, menopause, heavy repetitive work, pulmonary disorders and chronic constipation can add to loss of support.
“Incontinence can be very detrimental to a woman’s quality of life,” Dr. Pillai-Allen adds. “If you are worried about losing urine or stool, you restrict your exercise activities and can get out of shape. This can also lead to decreased social activities and depression.”
There is no need to suffer because effective treatment is available, especially if the symptoms are addressed in the early phase. “A lot of my patients say, “’Why did I wait so long?’” Dr. Pillai-Allen says.
Robotic Surgery Eases Recovery
To correct Terri’s problem, Dr. Pillai-Allen performed a hysterectomy and a reconstructive procedure in June 2011 using the da Vinci® Robotic Surgical System. Dr. Pillai-Allen restored support to Terri’s vagina so her pelvic organs would not fall down.
“Robotic surgery allows me to operate through very small incisions and my patients typically experience less pain and a faster recovery,” add Dr. Pillai-Allen.
Terri spent just one night in the hospital after her surgery. “The next morning, I was up and walking,” she recalls. “I was shocked at being home the day after surgery and feeling as well as I did. I was given a prescription painkiller, but I never needed to take it. I was tired, but I had no pain.”
“Today, I was completely back to normal,” Terri says. “I have no urinary incontinence or prolapse problems at all anymore…Dr. Pillai-Allen is a miracle worker.”