After doctors failed to fix her incontinence that lasted nearly 20 years, Helen Templeton is on a mission to talk about her journey towards continence and the medical subspecialty that helped her to reclaim her life.
Around the age of 55, Helen started noticing signs of urinary incontinence. For the Florida school district administrative assistant, her symptoms were an occasional happening. However, over the years – the prevalence of incontinence typically increases with age – her condition became more frequent and severe.
With the simplest of physical exertions – a cough, sneeze, laugh, bend at the hip to pick something up – Helen would leak. “I kept Kimberly Clark in business,” Helen jokes, referring to the sanitary products she became dependent upon.
Bladder leakage has been kept quiet as a terrible stigma to have, but I feel it should be told because there are a lot of women who go through the same thing and don’t know where to go. says the 74-year-old Helen.
Known as stress incontinence, the sudden escape of urine caused by physical activities is typically found in women that have given natural childbirth, had prior gynecologic surgery, experience hormonal changes due to menopause, or perform continued strenuous activity.
When Helen retired, she moved with her husband, Vern, to Colorado Springs to be closer to their children and grandchildren. As her symptoms worsened, Helen felt uncomfortable going out of the house, grabbing a bite out to eat and doing daily activities in public.
According to researchers incontinence not only affects social lives, but can also take its toll on personal relationships. A recent study found that 38 percent of women and 32 percent of men reported that the female partner’s incontinence negatively affected their relationship.
Helen knew that she could no longer live with her condition so she decided to seek the help of a local urologist. He implanted a sling to provide support to her urethra and stop the source of her leaking.
This worked for short time, but one year later Helen sought the help of a second urologist who performed collagen injections to close up the urethral tissue so urine could not leak through the bladder. The injections were also a short-term fix.
After another collagen injection and yet another sling implant, neither of which worked, Helen felt completely discouraged. She thought she’d have to live with incontinence for the rest of her life.
Helen read an article in the newspaper about a lady who was also experiencing incontinence and successfully used a pessary – a device inserted into the vagina to provide structural support – to stop her leaking. Helen tried the pessary, but found that this was too uncomfortable.
Helen had all but given up hope until her ob-gyn suggested calling an urogynecologist who specializes in pelvic floor disorders, including incontinence.
She called the urogynecology department at the University of Colorado Hospital and was put in contact with Dr. Karlotta Davis.
On her first visit, Dr. Davis said Helen’s incontinence was the result of two vaginal births and a complete hysterectomy, because the pelvic muscles that support the bladder and urethra had weakened.
“Dr. Davis is wonderful. She tells you what’s happening, what’s going to take place, everything,” says Helen.
In addition to fixing her incontinence, Dr. Davis also planned to address abdominal pain Helen was experiencing that was the result of internal scarring from her previous surgeries. Having to undergo multiple procedures, Helen prepared herself for the surgery.
“Dr. Davis explained that my odds of success were 75 percent and I had to really consider whether it was worth it at my age,” says Helen. “To me, it was. I felt I didn’t really have a life, living the way that I was.”
This past March, Helen underwent the surgery and was in the hospital for several days, with her husband by her side.
Five months after her operation, Helen is noticing a huge difference.
She is completely dry. She can go out, walk and bend over with assurance that her leaking was a thing of the past. “I feel like a lady and wife again,” says Helen.
Helen knows her life has been changed. While the road towards continence was long, she is thankful for Dr. Davis and the emerging field of urogynecology that helped to reclaim her life.