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New Device Saving Women With Restroom Issues

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ST. LOUIS, MO (KPLR) - It’s a medical condition that affects millions of Americans but many are too afraid to talk about. Instead, they suffer in silence. It can turn a person into a recluse, but now there is life changing help.

An estimated 18 million people in this country have trouble controlling their bowels. Sharon, 50, was like a prisoner in her Jefferson County home.

She said, “You shut down. You feel so isolated you feel alone. You feel embarrassed. You feel like nobody else knows how you feel nobody else is having the problem."

About 13 years ago, she began losing control of her bowels. Over time, the symptoms only got worse. She was too afraid to tell anyone, including her husband.

“I was truly so embarrassed that I didn't want him to know.”

Doctors estimate thousands of people in the St. Louis area have the medical problem but it is a number that is hard to pin down.

Dr. Ralph Silverman, a colorectal surgeon, said, “We really don`t have a great handle on what that number is because the subject is kind of taboo and women don`t like to talk about it.”

He said most of those who have the condition are women. It all can begin on what may be the happiest day of a woman’s life, when she gives birth. During delivery women may damaged muscles that control bowel movements. It doesn’t become evident for years, even decades.

“As they age and go through menopause, those pelvic muscles weaken," says Dr. Silverman. "All of sudden the small injury they had many years ago becomes very apparent and they start to have control issues.”

Sharon said she couldn’t go into a building without first finding where the restroom was located. Women become hermits. They don’t want to go out to eat with friends or shopping at the mall.

Sarah Johnson is a colorectal nurse. She says, “People don`t want to go to the beach...wear white pants. They have to sit at the end of the booth when they go to the restaurant.”

Sharon loved long walks with her dog but those came to an end. She even cancelled vacations with her husband at the very last minute, the morning they were to depart.

Sharon said, “You`re just stuck. You feel shut down you're afraid to go anywhere. You're afraid to live your life from day to day.”

A new procedure called Interstim Therapy changed everything for Sharon. The device is not much bigger than a silver dollar but it’s worth more than its weight in gold to Sharon and others like her.

Dr. Silverman explains, “Interstim is a stimulator that`s implanted underneath the skin and you can't see it. And there's a small wire that's attached to stimulate the nerve that controls the muscle and it makes that muscle stronger.”

Two days after Interstim surgery, Sharon was back to normal. The control problem disappeared, she had her life back.

She said, “It's beyond joy. It's amazement,. It's ecstatic. It's being able to feel normal again, not being afraid.”

Sharon is telling her private story to help others. The device is implanted in the hip and the battery last for up to 5 to 7 years. It’s changed in a simple procedure. The company that makes it says it won’t work for all men and women but Dr. Silverman said he’s seen a great deal of success.

More information:

Contact Colorectal specialist Dr. Ralph Silverman:

About Medtronic Bowel Control Therapy