Change is good.
It took 13 years of training and 21 years in practice, but I am now doing exactly what I was meant to do – educate women about and treat women for uterine fibroids.
I am an Interventional Radiologist (IR). This vibrant field of radiology allows me to do medical procedures using imaging-based technologies including ultrasound, CT scans and fluoroscopy.
I know. It sounds complicated and maybe even intimidating. So in layman terms, I do procedures similar to cardiologists (heart doctors) except in all of the other blood vessels, and use tiny tubes to do them.
This translates into no surgery.
Instead, I diagnose and treat conditions through mildly invasive procedures.
From draining abscesses with ultrasound guidance to fixing ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysms with stent grafts, I’ve loved (almost) every minute of the 21 years I’ve practiced.
Here’s an example of the kind of cases an IR would deal with: Let’s say (heaven forbid) that you were in an accident that caused internal bleeding. Rather than having a big surgery to find where the bleeding is coming from and stop it, I can feed a tiny tube through the blood vessels right to the trouble spot and plug it from the inside. This means no big incision, no scar and a shorter recovery time.
So recently I was given the opportunity to change from a general hospital based IR practice, doing every type of procedure, to a practice focusing my attention on just the areas about which I feel the most passion.
I jumped at the chance.
You see, I’ve always felt that if you could treat a problem without surgery, you should. And there should be a way to treat a lot more problems that have been treated with surgery in the past without making an incision. I tell my patients that a surgery should always be avoided if possible. But if you have a medical problem that requires treatment, do it in the most effective and least invasive way possible.
Getting back to earlier when I mentioned that I’m now doing what I was meant to do, I focus almost all my attention on treating uterine fibroids without surgery.
Conventional medical training taught us that if a woman is finished having children and has any kind of problem with her uterus, take it out. Get rid of it. It’s not serving any purpose and is a potential source of future problems. Gynecologists who recommend hysterectomy have the patient’s best interest in mind. They are not cavalier or just trying to make some money. They have been taught, as I was, that hysterectomy is the proper treatment for fibroids in women who do not intend to have children in the future.
But I listen to my patients. A lot of women do not want a hysterectomy for all kinds of reasons. For example:
“I was born with it and I want to keep it.”
“God put it there for a reason.”
“It’s part of being a woman.”
“It’s where my children came from.”
“I’m afraid I won’t be able to enjoy sex if it’s gone.”
I’ve heard all of those, but the most common reason I hear for not wanting a hysterectomy is this: “I don’t want surgery. Period.” That reason also rules out some of the less invasive treatments for fibroids, including laparoscopic or robotic myomectomy.
Wanting to avoid surgery is a very reasonable sentiment. Surgery has risks. Hysterectomy is a big surgery. It’s painful. It leaves scars. There could be undesirable side effects. There’s a long recovery time. It’s scary. Those are all good reasons to avoid surgery, especially if there’s an alternative. And there is.
Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE) is a procedure that treats uterine fibroids without surgery. It involves making a tiny skin nick the size of a grain of rice over a blood vessel and feeding a tube to the blood supply to the fibroids. Tiny particles are injected through the tube to clog the blood vessels to the fibroids. That kills the fibroids, and they shrink away. About 90% of the time, the symptoms caused by the fibroids go away too. Presto! The fibroids are treated without surgery.
I love being able to tell women what they want to hear. “Yes, your fibroids can be treated without surgery.” It’s so rewarding. It makes them happy, which makes me happy.
As I’m building my UFE practice, I’m meeting the most amazing people. Women who are smart enough and brave enough to go looking for an alternative to hysterectomy. Women who are educating themselves about their options. Doctors who are empowering their patients to make informed choices. Men and women who, like me, are dedicated to spreading the word about UFE.
There’s a lot I’m learning about building this practice. As lessons come up, I plan to share them with you. Hopefully I’ll write about something you were wondering. Hopefully, I’ll answer some of your questions. If there’s something you want to ask, just send me an email and I’ll answer it if I can. I’m loving this practice and I feel blessed to be able to do what I love.
Suzanne Slonim, MD, FSIR, FACR