Cleveland Clinic performs first uterus transplant in the U.S.

(CNN) A team of surgeons at the Cleveland Clinic performed the first uterus transplant in the United States this week.

A 26-year-old woman received the new womb in a nine-hour operation, the hospital said in a statement. She was reported in stable condition Thursday.

The transplanted uterus came from a deceased organ donor.

Kellie Brown: “I was told I needed a hysterectomy. With UFE, I went home with a Band-Aid®.”
By Alicia Armeli

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For Kellie, it was an ordinary day. Just like any other, she stepped into the shower. It was then something went terribly wrong.

“I was in the shower,” said Kellie Brown, a Philanthropy Manager who resides in Atlanta, Georgia. “And I thought I was going to die. I thought I was bleeding to death.”

The cause of her uncontrolled bleeding? Uterine fibroids.

Exceedingly common, uterine fibroids are benign tumors that grow in the walls of the uterus and affect up to 80 percent of women by age 50.1 For some women, fibroids can be no trouble at all. For others, they can be the source of heavy painful periods, urinary incontinence, and pelvic pain.

But severe bleeding and cramping weren’t always the norm for Kellie. Growing up with easy periods, she didn’t pay much attention when they worsened in 2012. She remembered attributing this change to the normal progression of womanhood. “I never had period pain when I was younger,” Kellie explained. “For a long time, I rationalized that maybe everybody gets cramps at some point. I guess this is just my turn. That was what I told myself as it got progressively worse.”

Heavy, painful, and often sporadic, periods changed her life dramatically. By day, Kellie’s work-life suffered. “It just seemed absolutely uncontrollable. I would have to call off from work,” she admitted. “When I was at work, I’d have to go find an isolated place and just take the pain for the five or ten minutes when it was really intense.”

By night, fibroids relentlessly took over. Her bedtime routine consisted of wearing a super absorbency tampon combined with an overnight maxi-pad and sleeping on top of the blankets because her bleeding was so heavy. “I was in a relationship at that time,” Kellie continued. “He was fantastic about it, but it certainly lead to uncomfortable moments where we’d have to get up and change the sheets.”

Even normal daily activities became a safety hazard. “I would have to pull over and stop driving when cramps would get really bad.” Something had to be done.

After suffering with horrendous symptoms for over a year with no reprieve, Kellie was officially diagnosed with uterine fibroids in late 2013. Along with a diagnosis, her general practitioner gave her one treatment option: surgery. “We were still thinking about [having children],” Kellie remembered. “And I was really nervous to do something so dramatic to my reproductive system.”

Fortunately during this time, a friend also told her about Dr. Lipman of Atlanta Interventional Institute and a promising option called uterine fibroid embolization (UFE). She made an appointment right away.

Getting all her questions answered in a thorough consultation, Kellie now had a new outlook on life once she realized surgery wasn’t her only option. “Another doctor, and a woman at that, who understood I was still hopeful to have kids told me to take my uterus out,” she emphasized. “With UFE, Dr. Lipman told me I’d go home with a Band-Aid. It was unreal.”

For Kellie, total recovery from UFE consisted of about two weeks of rest and slow movement around the house, with an “all-over ache” only lasting the first two to three days.

Now she describes her life having endless possibilities—at any time during the month—thanks to her periods normalizing for the first time in years. “It’s amazing,” Kellie laughed. “I would tell my friends, ‘I got my period today! I’m so excited! Do you want to go do something? Get coffee, walk around, find something to do?’”

By telling her story to other women, Kellie hopes to pass along this enthusiasm for living fibroid-free and, above all, the courage to look beyond surgery. “It’s not the only option,” Kellie stressed. “Don’t be afraid to push back. We all have to stop being afraid to talk or feeling like we’re wrong. We’re not wrong for anything that’s happening.”

And Kellie’s incision? “I was amazed,” she told Ask4UFE. “I literally went home with a Band-Aid.”

REFERENCES

Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (2015). Uterine Fibroids Fact Sheet. Retrieved February 5, 2016, from http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/uterine-fibroids.html

My Better Half: An Inside Look at Couples Fighting Fibroids
By Alicia Armeli

Every day uterine fibroids take a physical, mental, and emotional toll on hundreds of thousands of women. But there’s another side to this epidemic. Next to these women stand countless spouses and partners who also live with the helplessness and frustration of watching their loved ones suffer. How this affects intimate relationships often goes unmentioned.

“I really didn’t understand what was going on,” admitted Wayne Tyler regarding his wife’s emotional state. “Something was wrong but I couldn’t put my finger on it. She was having irregular periods. We found out she had fibroids during a discussion with [the gynecologist]. For me to watch her go through this was painful because you want to help but you don’t know what to do.”

As Mr. Tyler noticed with his wife, uterine fibroids can disrupt menstrual cycles resulting in irregular and often unbearably heavy painful periods. Urinary incontinence and painful intercourse are also symptoms that can negatively affect a couple’s intimacy, leaving many women depressed and their partners worried.

“Sexually, there was no sex, to be quite honest,” Gwen Tyler told Ask4UFE. “I was bleeding so much and [my husband] was so concerned about it. He was very patient with me, but it made me feel really bad as a wife that I couldn’t take care of him the way that he needed to be taken care of. It really affected my marriage.”

Research shows the Tylers aren’t alone. In 2012, BioMed Central Women’s Health published the results of the Uterine Bleeding and Pain Women’s Research Study.1 Consisting of data from over 21,000 women 15-49 years of age across eight countries, the study looked at how uterine pain and bleeding, often related to fibroids, affected daily life.

Of the women diagnosed with uterine fibroids, over half reported fibroids having a mild to severe impact on their daily life in the last 12 months. And out of these women, nearly half said their sex life was negatively affected.

Uterine fibroids can have other devastating consequences—especially for couples that want to conceive. Depending on their location, fibroids may block sperm from reaching the egg or change the shape of the uterus, inhibiting implantation.2

“We had been trying to have children,” Mr. Tyler said. “This [fibroids] can be a very detrimental condition if nothing is done about it.”

And for the Tylers, doing nothing wasn’t an option. Learning about fibroids, researching treatment options, and attending doctor appointments were all done—together. This active participation and open dialogue is exactly what Mr. Tyler encourages partners—especially men—to do with their loved ones. “Husbands and partners who are going through this—the more you know about the condition the better,” advised Mr. Tyler. “It helps you to understand and have compassion.”

For couples fighting the fibroids battle together, having each other’s back may be the biggest source of encouragement and comfort. Referring to Mr. Tyler as her “biggest strength and support,” Mrs. Tyler said what she appreciated most was her husband’s presence.

In reply to his wife’s gratitude, Mr. Tyler replied, “My main focus was to make sure she was healthy. She is my better half.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR   Alicia Armeli is a Health Freelance Writer and Photographer, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, and Certified Holistic Life Coach. She has master’s degrees in English Education and Nutrition. Through her writing, she empowers readers to live optimally by building awareness surrounding issues that impact health and wellbeing. In addition to writing, she enjoys singing, traveling abroad, and volunteering in her community.

REFERENCES

  1. Zimmerman, A., Bernuit, D., Gerlinger, C., Schaefers, M., & Geppert, K. (2012). Prevalence, symptoms and management of uterine fibroids: an international internet-based survey of 21,746 women. BioMed Central Women’s Health, 12(6). doi: 10.1186/1472-6874-12-6
  2. Guo, S. C., & Segars, J. H. (2012). The impact and management of fibroids for fertility: an evidence-based approach. Obstetrics & Gynecology Clinics of North America, 39(4): 521-533. doi: 10.1016/j.ogc.2012.09.005
Carmen McKever. Letting All Women Know There’s an Alternative to Hysterectomy
Carmen
By Alicia Armeli

Carmen

In 2000, Carmen McKever was diagnosed with uterine fibroids the size of pinheads. Little did she know these small tumors would impact her life in a big way.

Like many women, Carmen discovered she had fibroids accidentally. While visiting her gynecologist to remove an ovarian cyst, she also found out she had fibroids. “[My gynecologist] removed the ovary and she told me, ‘Oh, by the way, I saw some fibroids in your uterus.’” Carmen explained. “I didn’t think anything of it at that time.”

But in a few years, Carmen started to develop serious symptoms like heavy, long, painful periods—with one cycle leaving her to bleed for one month straight. With a career as a registered nurse, this made her work life unbearable. “Fibroids really impacted my everyday life.” Carmen told Ask4UFE. “Professionally, I am a nurse. At my facility, our uniform is white scrubs. So you can imagine, every month it was like a nightmare.”

But this wasn’t the only uniform Carmen had to wear. During her period, Carmen described having “an arsenal” with her—and on her—to avoid accidents. On any given day she was menstruating, Carmen admitted having to wear a super absorbency tampon, two ultra absorbency maxi-pads, a Depend® adult diaper, and Spanks® to hold it all together.

And it didn’t stop there. “I would have a regular maxi-pad in the seat of the Spanx® just in case the super absorbency tampon, the ultra long maxi-pads, and the Spanx® couldn’t keep it together,” she continued. “I also had all that stuff in my bag just in case I had to change, which was about every hour.”

Not able to tolerate it any longer, she began to explore fibroid treatments. But for women like Carmen, who want an alternative to hysterectomy, finding a doctor who will listen is an uphill battle.

“The help I received from medical professionals was—operate. Hysterectomy. That was it. I just felt like I was being dismissed,” she recalled with emotion. “I oftentimes felt like it was my fault that I had fibroids. That I was wasting people’s time because I was trying to figure out what I was going to do—and not have a hysterectomy—and that was the only answer I was getting. At one point I was even told that I was behind the eight ball.”

After searching for alternatives and getting nowhere, Carmen finally learned about uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) from an acquaintance who also suffered from fibroids. After attending a free UFE hospital seminar given by Dr. John Lipman of Atlanta Interventional Institute, she wanted to hear more.

Around the same time, Carmen’s mother, who also had suffered from fibroids, saw Dr. Lipman on a TV program and encouraged her to meet with him. Describing her mother as her “resource” and “best friend,” Carmen decided to go and get her questions answered.

“[Dr. Lipman] reassured me,” Carmen said. “He made it feel like it was not my fault that I had fibroids. He made sure that I had all the information and that I was well-informed so I could make a logical decision.”

For Carmen, deciding to get UFE was the best decision for her. Recovery was uncomplicated. After resting for four days, she was back at work a week after the procedure. “My pain was nothing compared to the menstrual cramps that I experienced every month,” she described. “It wasn’t anything that I couldn’t handle.”

And that “arsenal” Carmen described? It’s now a thing of the past. “I don’t have to wear a super absorbency tampon or a Depend® or a Spanks®,” she smiled. “And a lot of times I forget I am on my period.”

For Carmen, persistence paid off and she got to avoid an unnecessary surgery. But what about the thousands of women who are fighting that same fight?

“I’m hoping that I can use this platform to let other women know about UFE,” Carmen emphasized. “Women who are afraid to wear white pants and who feel a gush of blood flowing every time they get up from their seat. Who pray they have not messed up their seat at work or messed up the back of their pants or their nice skirt when they go out to dinner or they go to church. I hope that by doing this, I let other women know—just like I found out—that there is an alternative.”