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Up to Full Speed: Surgery for stress incontinence helped Rachael Booker get her active life back

Nov 23, 2015 01:20PM ● By Cate Reynolds
Up to Full Speed provided by Anne Arundel Medical Center.

Rachael Booker is an avid runner. But two years ago, this 44-year-old Orchard Park resident began having trouble completing her regular runs. And, it wasn’t due to an injury. “I wasn’t running my course; I was always running to the next bathroom,” she says.

The problem worsened to the point where it affected her even when she wasn’t running. Attending soccer games with her four children, who range from 8 to 14 years old, meant planning routes that included bathrooms along the way and allotting time for these pit stops.

“We were always with other kids and parents, and I had to stop so many times to go to the bathroom and hold up the entire group,” she says. “It was embarrassing.”

Rachael mostly suffered in silence. “I thought it was just because of having four kids,” she says. “I got to the point where I thought, ‘It is what it is.’”

A Common Condition

About 18 million American women suffer from urinary incontinence, which is when urine leaks unintentionally. Stress incontinence—leaking during an activity that causes pressure on the bladder, like coughing, sneezing, laughing, or exercising—is the most common form in women under age 60. It’s often goes hand-in-hand with urge incontinence, or overactive bladder.

Unfortunately, many of the millions of women who deal with these symptoms are embarrassed to talk about it. This stems from the misconception that incontinence is an untreatable result of having had children or aging.

While these factors do contribute to incontinence, the truth is the condition can usually be managed and treated successfully. But it requires speaking up.

“If you have symptoms of incontinence, ask your physician to investigate it,” says Briana Walton, MD, director of female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery at the Anne Arundel Medical Group Women’s Center for Pelvic Health. “If you don’t say anything, your doctor may not bring it up.”

Finding the Right Treatment

Fortunately, one day Rachael did open up to a fellow mom. That mom confided that she, too, had suffered from stress incontinence, and she had had surgery for it.

“I was relieved I wasn’t the only one,” Rachael says. “And I thought, ‘I need to look into that.’”

She went to see Dr. Walton and learned what was causing her incontinence. Through a physical examination, Dr. Walton discovered Rachael’s pelvic organs had dropped quit a bit.

Rachael and Dr. Walton reviewed all the treatment options together, which include exercises to strengthen the pelvic muscles, an insertable pessary device that supports the pelvic organs, medications, and surgery.

“I felt surgery was the best permanent fix for me,” Rachael says.

Dr. Walton agreed that the other solutions might not be the right fit for Rachael. “When a woman says, ‘That’s not going to fit my lifestyle, I need to restore my way of life fairly quickly,’ we can go straight to surgery.”

A Physical and Emotional Recovery

Rachael had a robotic minimally-invasive surgery that involved small incisions “no wider than your pinky,” says Dr. Walton. She performed a partial hysterectomy, provided support for the pelvic organs, and inserted a mesh sling to support the urethra, the duct through which urine leaves the bladder.

“The sling is a piece of synthetic material that sits under the middle of the urethra like a hammock,” says Dr. Walton. “It works by being a stable structure underneath it.” To explain, she uses the analogy of a garden hose on soggy ground. “If you tried to step on the hose, you couldn’t stop the flow of water coming through it. That sling acts like a little board that you would put under the hose, and then when you stepped on it, you could actually close off that section of the hose.”

Recovery time is typically four to six weeks for surgery to insert a sling. Because Rachael’s surgery was more extensive, she was back to work after seven weeks.”

“Now I’m back full throttle,” Rachael says. She’s able to sit through meetings at work, keep up with her kids, and run consistently without bathroom breaks. She stays motivated by running a 5K every month.

But one result of the surgery that she didn’t anticipate was the boost in self-confidence. “I feel a lot better about myself,” she says. And she wants other women who deal with incontinence to have the same feeling. “Now I walk around with Dr. Walton’s card, and when a woman opens up to me about it, I hand her the card,” she says.

“I just want women to know that it’s okay. It happens to a lot of us,” she says. “It’s something that is fixable and it will change your life.”

“It drastically changed my life.”