New Procedure Provides Freedom after Forty Years of Pain
Sue Myers of Midland is enjoying her new-found freedom. Since the procedure, she has been able to get back to the activities she loves, including horseback riding.
Sue Myers of Midland had suffered with bladder issues her entire life. Even as a child of seven, Myers, now 49, remembers often feeling severe pain. “The pain would go away for the most part when my bladder emptied,” she said, “but it was always there to a degree.”
For most of her life, Myers simply suffered and did her best to cope. “I thought everyone felt the way I did,” she said. “I thought pain was normal.”
Throughout her life, Myers used some unique coping skills. She discovered that bending at the waist would temporarily relieve the intense pain and allow her a bit more time to find a restroom. “If I was out in public, and I felt the spasms start, I would bend over and pretend to adjust my socks or shoelaces,” she said. “It took the pain away for a bit but I still had to find a restroom right away!”
Myers’ condition had a profound impact on her quality of life. “I isolated myself, especially when I grew to understand that everyone didn’t feel this way,” she said. “I always had to be close to a bathroom. I didn’t enjoy shopping trips. I didn’t want to go ice fishing or to any event where the bathrooms were far away. Road trips were awful!”
She sought help over the years and tried a myriad of remedies. “I tried exercises, changing my diet and many different medications for pain and for the bladder,” Myers said. She found the medicines created an uncomfortable cycle and had painful side effects. “The medicines dried my system so I drank more – and had to use the bathroom even more. Plus, at one point, my body was so dry my tongue cracked open.”
Finally, when she was in her 40s, Myers learned that her lifelong bladder condition had a name and possible treatment options. Her family medicine provider, Karen McHenry, P.A.-C., thought that Myers’ symptoms were consistent with interstitial cystitis and suggested a procedure called bladder distention to confirm her suspicion.
Interstitial cystitis is a chronic condition that results in recurring pain, pressure or a burning sensation in the bladder and the surrounding pelvic region. The pain may become more intense as the bladder fills or empties.
Although generally used as a diagnostic tool, people often experience temporary relief from symptoms after bladder distention. “After that procedure, I was without pain for the first time in my life,” Myers said. “I thought ‘so this is what normal feels like!’ It was a temporary fix, but I finally knew what normal could be. That procedure played a key role in my life.”
After having experienced how good she could feel, Myers started looking for a new permanent solution. “I had exhausted all the different types of medicines available and they were not solving the problem,” she said. “I knew the bladder rinses wouldn’t work forever plus, they have unpleasant side effects as well.”
Fortunately, Myers, who is a hair stylist, has a client who works for MidMichigan Health. “She suggested I contact Dr. Karla Witzke, a urologist practicing at MidMichigan,” Myers said. “I called her immediately and she saw me right away.”
Meeting with Dr. Witzke changed Myers’ life. “She is wonderful!” Myers said. “She has so much compassion. I wasn’t just a patient to her. She truly cares.”
To help patients reach a better quality of life, Dr. Witzke uses a variety of methods including physical therapy, biofeedback, medication, surgery and other treatments. In Myers’ case, Dr. Witzke suggested InterStim® therapy, a type of sacral nerve stimulation that acts like a pacemaker for the bladder. For some people, modulation of the sacral nerves — a primary link between the spinal cord and nerves in the bladder — can reduce symptoms of urinary frequency and urgency. With sacral nerve stimulation, a thin wire placed near the sacral nerves delivers electrical impulses to the bladder, similar to what a pacemaker does for the heart.
“When Dr. Witzke first suggested it, I was taken aback by the thought of an implant,” Myers said. However, a trial run with an external device proved that her condition could indeed improve.
So Myers proceeded with the procedure and Dr. Witzke surgically implanted the InterStim device that changed Myers’ life. “Today, more than 50 percent of my symptoms are gone and I am totally med free,” Myers said. “It’s a huge relief to be free of the medicines and the side effects.”
The device is nearly undetectable. “There’s no bulge and no one knows it’s there,” she said. “I can feel it, but no one can see it. It’s very flexible and stays in place. I can even ride horseback and help bale hay. That surprised me.”
Myers is delighted with her new-found freedom. “I’m living normally now,” she said. “I can eat a healthy diet and drink the liquids I need, and I take long car trips without constantly looking for a restroom.”
Myers encourages others who suffer as she did to seek help. “Don’t wonder what ‘normal’ feels like,” she said. “It’s crazy to live that way when you don’t have to. Own up to the problem and take control of your life. There is help out there.”
Those who are experiencing urinary incontinence are encouraged to talk with their primary care provider, or contact MidMichigan’s Nurse Navigator directly at (989) 837-9045 or toll free at (888) 626-4547. Additional information about Dr. Witzke may be found at www.midmichigan.org/witzke.
InterStim is a registered trademark of Medtronic, Inc.