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Lifting the Weight of Incontinence

Jana Peterson walks out her back door, easily carrying a moving box to its temporary location in a storage unit outside.

It used to be that something as simple as lifting a box, or a laugh or a sneeze, led to embarrassment. Not any more, thanks to Sanford Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery Clinic.

“I can actually be around people again,” she says as she places the box on the floor. “I’ve got my life back.”

For years, Jana struggled with urinary incontinence, an accidental release of urine that was triggered by anything that put pressure on her bladder. The 41-year-old woman was too embarrassed at first to do anything except hope that no one would notice.

Hiding her problem

Her job, unloading packages that could weigh anything from a few ounces to 150 pounds, constantly made her bladder leak. She would wear long, loose-fitting, dark colored clothing, hoping that her mostly male co-workers didn’t see the wet spots.

Playing with her children, a sneeze or a funny movie made her lose control of her bladder. Trips to Sturgis, where she rode on the back of her husband’s motorcycle were tricky at best. She never knew when something would lead to urine leaking down her leg.

“I’m not 80,” Jana says with a deep laugh. “Wearing pads or just putting up with it wasn’t an option for me.”

Eventually, Jana got past her embarrassment and talked to her doctor, who recommended that she consider a procedure to install a urethral sling. The surgery places a sling attached to the abdominal wall around the urethra that holds the bladder and urethra in their proper position. Without extra pressure on the bladder, the incontinence is improved or goes away entirely for most women.

Jana had the surgery done by a gynecologist in 2009. At first, she had a lot of pain and bruising and less than a year later, she was back to leaking again. Several doctors told her there might be no answer to her problem.

“It was so frustrating, because people were telling me there was nothing I could do,” Jana says. “I couldn’t accept that.”

Someone who cared

Then Jana made an appointment at Sanford Female Pelvic Medicine & Reconstructive Surgery Clinic with urogynecologist Kevin Benson, MD. Dr. Benson, an expert in reconstructive pelvic surgery, sat down next to her and really listened to her, taking notes and saying he would find a way to help her.

During her examination, he discovered in just minutes a problem none of her earlier doctors had diagnosed, a rectocele, a weakness in the tissues and muscles that hold the end of the large intestine. This had allowed the rectum to bulge out into the back wall of her vagina, putting more pressure on the bladder.

“You can tell he really cares about women,” says Jana. “He took the time and he spent the time to ask me the questions.”

As she packs and shifts boxes around her home, Jana explains how different her 2012 surgery was from her previous experience. Dr. Benson repaired the rectocele and placed a new urethral sling during a procedure that lasted under an hour and left her with only a little temporary pain.

The next day she was home from the hospital. Within weeks she was noticing a difference. Her leakage problems lessened gradually, leaving her dry and happy.

Her new life

vMonths after the surgery, Jana feels better than ever. She wears shorts and light colored clothes again. She can laugh and lift without worrying about leaving a puddle behind.

And riding on the back of her husband’s motorcycle during the Sturgis Rally was so much fun this year that she’s got her eye on a Harley of her own, a sweet, custom-painted blue bike.

“Life is too good not to enjoy yourself,” she says. “To me, it’s like Dr. Benson gave me my life back.”

Jana encourages other women to talk to their doctor about urinary incontinence. It’s important to get past the embarrassment and find the right doctor who can help, she says.

“Don’t hide behind the curtain and don’t be afraid to ask why,” Jana says, a box on her hip. “Fix the problem. Don’t just live with it.”

Posted Date: September 2012