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Getting Her Life Back

Beverly Young is not the kind of person who planned to spend her retirement sitting down.

Over the past few years, the 70-year-old Sioux Falls woman has developed a love for the wilderness, taking canoe trips with her husband into the boundary waters of northern Minnesota. She loads everything she needs to live in the woods for weeks at a time onto a heavy pack on her back.

“I don’t act like I’m as old as I am,” the retired medical lab administrator says. “And I don’t plan on starting to act my age anytime soon.”

However, a year ago the active, healthy woman decided that she might have to give up the camping trips she loves. A growing problem with an overactive bladder made a trip to the boundary waters a miserable experience. Lifting the gear she needed or even helping to portage the canoe was almost impossible.

“Going out in the middle of the night because you can’t wait until morning is no fun,” Beverly said. “When you’re in a canoe for as much as 15 miles a day, you can’t just put up with it. It became more than I could do.”

A growing problem

For several years, Beverly had been gradually having issues with urinary incontinence. At first it was just an increasing urgency about needing to use the bathroom. Eventually she’d have accidents when she lifted something heavy or experienced a drastic change in temperature.

“I found myself planning things around trips to the bathroom, only shopping in stores where I knew where the restroom was,” Beverly said.

Beverly never left the house without a few extra pads in her purse. And she almost always wore black, a color that could mask the tell-tale signs of an accident. Although the problem put severe limits on her schedule and activities, she never spoke about it to friends.

“It’s something that you just don’t talk about with other women,” Beverly said. “So many women have this problem, but it can be embarrassing to bring up.”

Long-distance travel became more and more difficult since she’d have to stop regularly on the road for bathroom breaks. When Beverly, an award winning sculptor, was asked to lead the annual meeting of the National Institute of Doll Artists, her overactive bladder added to the stress of the event.

“It was always in the back of my mind,” Beverly said. “You don’t realize how bad it has gotten until you’re in that position.”

Looking for options

Eventually, she mentioned the problem to her doctor who sent her to Sanford urogynecologist Michael Fiegen, MD. Beverly and Dr. Fiegen began working through the options that could help end the incontinence, looking for the least invasive treatment with the best results.

After trying several other treatments unsuccessfully, Dr. Fiegen suggested that Beverly consider a therapy called Interstim, an implantable device that stimulates the nerves that control the bladder with mild electrical pulses. Together they decided that she would be a good candidate to give the device a try.

“I refused to believe that there wasn’t some way that modern medicine couldn’t help,” Beverly said. “I wanted to find some way to live my life with freedom again.”

She underwent a simple outpatient procedure to have a small wire placed in her back that was temporarily attached to the device. It works by helping the brain control the bladder and muscles related to urinary function. Almost immediately she got results.

“It was so effective it even made me nervous,” she says, a smile creeping across her face. “I thought, ‘this can’t be this good this fast.’”

Beverly opted to go on to have the device and its battery, about the size of a 50-cent piece, placed under her skin. She has a small remote control that can be used to adjust the amount of electrical impulse delivered by the Interstim device, but her bladder has responded so well that she rarely needs to make any changes.

A return to freedom

Her retirement lifestyle has been opened back up without limits. She can shop or get together for lunch with friends without having to scout out the location of the bathroom. She’s now planning a trip she’s always dreamed of, a cruise that will take her to the Mayan ruins.

“I can climb to the top now,” Beverly said. “There is no way that I would have ever considered this before.”

This fall, Beverly went back to the boundary waters, easily lifting her side of the canoe. As she hiked with 50 or more pounds of gear on her back, she and her husband talked about their plans to return to the still waters and deep woods.

“The peace of mind I had was incredible,” Beverly said. “I have no limits now.”

Posted Date: November 2011