I never heard of fibroids until I learned early last year that my wife Jennifer had them. (Her mother had them as well, as did an aunt and a grandmother, so I think they’re at least partly genetic.) Fibroids of the uterus are what they sound like: Fibrous masses—noncancerous tumors—growing in the uterus. My wife had a lot of them, some of them quite large (up to six centimeters across).
Fibroids can do a variety of nasty things, such as interfere with pregnancy and cause heavy bleeding. My wife had severe anemia (for which she took iron pills), and she ended up in the emergency room once due to bleeding, which prompted us to get more serious about solving the problem.
The first OBGYN we visited (before the ER visit) wanted to cut out my wife’s uterus—do a hysterectomy—which struck me as an absurdly disproportionate “solution” relative to the problem. A hysterectomy would have required a six-week recovery, and obviously it would have made pregnancy impossible.
The second doctor my wife visited is an endocrinologist. He wanted to cut out the fibroids laparoscopically, through small slits in the abdomen. This was a considerably less-horrible alternative, but the problems were two-fold: a long recovery time and a high probability of regrown fibroids within a few years.
There is a lesson here: Don’t necessarily act on the first “expert” advice you hear from a doctor (or anyone else). The first doctor my wife saw gave her terrible advice. I chalk this up to the “hammer and nail” phenomenon: The first doctor happened to do hysterectomies, so that’s what she thought my wife needed. The second doctor happened to do laparoscopic surgery, so that’s what he thought my wife needed. In fact, she needed neither of those procedures.
Thankfully, we kept digging, and we learned about embolization. The idea is that a doctor runs a tube up through the main artery in your leg up to the uterus. Then the doctor strategically releases silicon particles to block or restrict the blood flow to the fibroids. Assuming this goes well, the fibroids shrink and are absorbed by or discharged from the body.
Jennifer learned that RIA Endovascular performs uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) in Denver. Checking around, we heard that RIA’s Dr. Brooke Spencer was excellent in the field. And she is.
After a consultation and a preliminary MRI, Jennifer had the UFE procedure done by Spencer on September 6 of last year. At the six month mark she got a second MRI, and the results are very good, with some fibroids completely gone and most others significantly smaller. (The remaining fibroids are expected to continue to shrink.) Her monthly bleeding and cramping is radically less now than it was before, and her anemia is gone.
We were extremely happy with Spencer’s work and with her willingness to answer our questions in minute detail. Indeed, we were very happy with the service provided by everyone associated with RIA. Likewise, we were happy with the service provided at Littleton Medical Center, where the procedure and recovery took place.
We did have a slight hitch in the recovery. The hospital staff put Jennifer on a morphine-class drug (I believe synthetic) immediately after surgery, but the next day when they took her off of that drug and switched her nausea medication she experienced some abdominal pain and some violent vomiting. They put her back on the morphine-class drug, changed her nausea medication, and kept her a second night. So UFE is definitely not an out-patient procedure, but Jennifer was back to work five days later.
Obviously neither Jennifer nor I are doctors, so anyone reading this should consult with a qualified medical expert regarding any medical issue. That said, in our case, we’re extremely glad we pursued UFE, particularly through RIA. So thank you Dr. Spencer and team!
July 7, 2016 Update: Last year my wife gave birth! It is my belief, although not a certainty, that the fibroid embolization allowed her to get pregnant. The procedure did not seem to interfere with the pregnancy. She did deliver early due to severe preeclampsia. Because she had a c-section, I actually saw her uterus. She still had some remaining fibroids, including one that might have interfered with baby positioning and delivery; but we still regard the embolization as an overwhelming success.