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Yolanda Smith is a take-charge kind of woman. The retired Army Veteran, mother of three and current Human Relations contractor is used to getting things done. So, when her fibroids turned painful, she knew she had to take action.
“I’ve had fibroids for a number of years, I’ll say at least 10, but in the last 18 months they’ve increased their size dramatically and the pain had become unbearable,” explains Smith.
Fibroids are the most frequently seen tumors of the female reproductive system. It’s estimated between 20 to 50 percent of women of reproductive age have fibroids, although not all are diagnosed. In the majority of the cases, the tumors are benign (non-cancerous), but the symptoms can be severe. While some women have no or mild indicators, other women have severe and disruptive symptoms including heavy, prolonged menstrual cycles, abnormal bleeding between periods, pelvic and/or back pain and frequent urination. Smith suffered through many of these symptoms.
“The pain became unbearable during my cycle and the bleeding was extreme. I cramped beyond belief. I was exhausted, I would stay home from work because I was so exhausted,” she remembers. That’s when she turned to her doctor for help, when an ultrasound showed three fibroids had increased in size, he gave her three options: live with the pain, have surgery or have a hysterectomy. Yolanda Smith knew that a hysterectomy wasn’t the right treatment option for her, that’s when her primary care physician recommended “UFE” or Uterine Fibroid Embolization and referred her to the specialists at Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center.
“I had never been to Sentara before, I’m used to military hospitals where I’m in my safe zone. But, from the time I called to get a consultation with a physician there, Tina went above and beyond to make sure I got an appointment and got the necessary paperwork needed. She actually followed up with my military hospital to assure that documents were forwarded to Sentara to aid me in seeing a doctor there. I just thought that was exceptional,” says Smith, describing her experience at the Sentara Heart & Vascular Center at Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center. It was decided Dr. Venu Vadlamudi, an Interventional Radiologist, would perform the procedure.
“Interventional radiology is a field where we perform minimally invasive procedures using radiology guidance,” explains Dr. Vadlamudi. “I tell patients to imagine me as a plumber, working completely inside of the pipes.”
In Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE) or Uterine Artery Embolization (UAE) as it’s also known, Dr. Vadlamudi goes in through the artery with a catheter and blocks the blood flow to the fibroids using embolic agents similar to small partials or beads. With the flow of blood compromised, the fibroids begin to shrink, taking with them the pain and symptoms.
“Over a matter of a few months’ time, these fibroids die away because you’ve taken away their blood supply. But again, nothing is physically tied, it’s not like putting a suture on top of the blood vessel or going from the outside, it’s all done from the inside of the blood vessel,” explains Dr. Vadlamudi. “We find it’s very rare new fibroids develop. So the overall success rate, especially from a technical standpoint, is well above 98%.”
In Yolanda’s case, Dr. Vadlamudi went in through a point above her wrist, leaving just a small nick after the procedure was completed.
“I don’t have a scar, just a little dot where he went into my arm,” she says.
After a short hospital stay, Yolanda went home to recover with doctor’s orders to start easing back into her routines. After almost two-weeks, she returned to work with her pain fading each day, but her admiration for the team continues to grow.
“It was just one of the best hospital visits I have ever had,” says Yolanda, “From the tech staff on down, everyone at Sentara Heart & Vascular Center was very attentive. They were very kind. Their bedside manner was exceptional.”
And, she offers this advice to other women living with fibroid pain, “If you’re suffering from fibroids, definitely do your research, consider UFE, and consider UFE at Sentara, they have the best staff!”
If you’d like to learn more about Interventional Radiology or what Sentara Heart & Vascular can do for you, call 1-800-Sentara or visit Sentara.com.