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Life Without Limits

Barbara Angerhofer loves to travel.

Getting in the car and just hitting the road, whether for a weekend or a major road trip, is one of the things this 64-year-old medical clerical worker loves to do. On one of those vacations, she learned about the family condition that would later plague her own journeys and limit her lifestyle.

About 17 years ago, the Dell Rapids woman was riding in the car with her husband and parents. About every hour her mother would ask the family if they could make a stop for ice cream.

"My husband loves ice cream, so, at first, he thought this was great," Angerhofer said, with a laugh. "But by the end of the day he didn’t want to eat any more. It took me a while to figure out that was how my mother would get us to stop so she could use the bathroom."

A familiar problem

Angerhofer, a woman who smiles easily underneath sparkling eyes, never thought she’d be asking her own family to make emergency stops on the road. However, over the years, she found herself needing to bring a small bag for quick roadside clothing changes when she couldn’t make it to a restroom in time. Soon the road trips came to an end.

"You just didn’t want to even try it because it was embarrassing," she said.

Her work day in a busy medical clinic was made more hectic by rushed trips to the bathroom. Even something as simple as a day of shopping couldn’t happen unless she could stay within minutes of a restroom.

"I had to quit going to movies because I knew I couldn’t sit there for the two and half hours you needed," said Angerhofer, a long-time movie fan. "You don’t notice it happening, but gradually you can’t go anywhere without finding the bathroom first."

One in eight women will suffer urinary incontinence sometime in their lifetime, often to due to childbirth, genetics and combination of other factors.

Angerhofer’s problem was caused by a uterine prolapse, a highly common condition among women where muscles and ligaments in the pelvic floor stretch, causing the uterus to drop into the vaginal canal and put pressure on the bladder.

Searching for better options

In her case, she was the third generation of women in her family to suffer problems with incontinence. She had seen what would be coming next. For years her mother had a pad on her favorite chair, then used a plastic sheet on her bed and later progressed to wearing adult diapers. Angerhofer said she was not willing to follow her mother’s path without checking out other options.

"There was no way I was ready to give up doing all the things I loved," said Angerhofer. "I just didn’t want to be embarrassed or panicked anymore about making it to the bathroom in time."

Angerhofer underwent surgery to fix her prolapsed uterus first in 2007, but within a year she had serious pain in lover pelvis which told her that the stitches had failed to keep her uterus in place. She soon met with urogynecologist Dr. Kevin Benson who offered her another option.

Getting her life back

Before considering surgery again, Angerhofer went through a series of uro-dynamic testing procedures. Those non-invasive tests were able to use computers to simulate the surgery and its effect on her urinary tract system and give Angerhofer and her doctor a good idea of which procedures would work.

"It allows us to know whether it will be successful for a patient," Benson said. "We don’t want to do any surgery unless we know it will be helpful."

In 2008, Angerhofer tried a new type of repair surgery using a device called transvaginal mesh.

The method, which places a layer of mesh material between the bladder and vagina, gives further strength to the uterine wall than can be provided with simple stitches. Angerhofer was pleasantly surprised how easily the second surgery went with less pain and almost no post operative care required.

"I felt better right away," Angerhofer said. "When I went back for my checkup they said I could be back to work the next day if I wanted."

More than four years after the successful surgery, Angerhofer said she is thankful every day for her lifestyle. She can sleep through the night without waking up, happily go to the movies and she never has to stop her family car trips for ice cream, unless she really wants to eat.

"I tell people they should never be afraid of doing this," Angerhofer said. "You can get your life back."

Learn more about Urogynecology.

Posted Date: January 2011