A Robotic Hysterectomy Changed My Life for the Better
In May 2018 I underwent a robotic hysterectomy that changed my life. Until that point, I had suffered through years of excruciating pain and other symptoms that interfered with my quality of life. I believe a lot of women are like me in thinking that intense abdominal pain, or pain with sex and other “female troubles” are normal, and they must learn to live with these issues. I am sharing my health journey so that other women know that pelvic pain, heavy bleeding and related symptoms aren’t necessarily “normal” and there are advanced treatments available that can help relieve them. This is my story…
A History of Abdominal Pain
From the time I first started menstruating I had horribly painful periods. I have never liked taking medicine, so always tried my best to soldier through the pain. From the beginning, severe cramps every month were my “normal.” I am now married and have three beautiful daughters—Caidyn, Madilyn and Vivian—who were all brought into this world via cesarean section (C-section). My youngest, Vivian, is now two years old. That third pregnancy was a difficult one—it was high-risk and led to extra amniotic fluid and other gynecology issues. I experienced even more pain and some new symptoms.
I knew from previous check-ups with my long-term OB-GYN that I had developed uterine fibroids and cysts, as well as endometriosis, but these had not yet been treated. During the year after Vivian’s birth, things got worse. I became bloated and my abdominal pain intensified. It also became painful to have sex. At my annual OB-GYN appointment in May 2017, I told my doctor about the worsening pain, that I was having pain during sex and that my uterus didn’t feel right. I requested an ultrasound, hoping it might reveal what was going on inside me.
My doctor did a physical exam and said there was no indication I needed an ultrasound. He told me the fibroids were causing my symptoms. He also said I may be experiencing symptoms more acutely since my third pregnancy because my body was older. He assured me that my uterus was normal, and advised that I work out more and get in shape to reduce the bloating. He told me my options for fibroid treatment were birth control, ablation, or surgery. He suggested that I start with birth control as a first step to see if this moderate approach resolved my symptoms.
I ended up bleeding every day while taking birth control pills, so stopped taking those after a month. My pain and bloating hadn’t resolved—I still looked like I was six months pregnant. I researched how to shrink fibroids naturally and tried several methods on my own. After a few months of that self-help approach, I still looked pregnant and I was still in pain. Something didn’t feel right, and things had to change.
New Year, New Goal: Improve My Gynecology Health
January 2018 arrived and I decided to step up my efforts. I quit drinking, and started practicing Pilates religiously. I continued eating right and got more sleep. These measures should have helped me lose weight, flatten my stomach and make me feel better. Instead, I had gained 10 pounds, I was still in pain, and I was so exhausted I could barely keep up with my kids.
I finally said, “That’s it, I’m done!” I contacted my friend Michelle, who works for Intuitive Surgical, makers of the robotic da Vinci® Surgical System. She had told me surgeons were using this technology to perform robotic surgeries that were less invasive for patients, leading to better outcomes. I wanted to learn more about the minimally invasive robotic hysterectomy in case it might help me.
Michelle advised me to consult with a gynecologist in Nevada named Dr. Swainston who had expertise in performing minimally invasive procedures with the da Vinci. She reached out to him, and within the day his office staff contacted me to book a consult! At my initial visit, Dr. Swainston listened to my history of problems and recommended an ultrasound to determine the underlying cause of the worsening symptoms. He performed the ultrasound himself, right there in his office. Based on the ultrasound, he confirmed that I had fibroids, cysts and endometriosis, and also determined that I had a vascular uterus. These conditions were contributing to my pain and bloating. He explained that a “vascular uterus” refers to vascular lesions in the uterus that can be acquired following pregnancy or C-section delivery.
He also told me that because I’d been experiencing pain and cramps since I started menstruating, that was all I knew. He said, “Like a lot of women, you probably thought you just had to deal with it, but you don’t. With proper treatment, you won’t have to deal with the pain or other symptoms anymore.” This validated my suspicions that something hadn’t been right with my body. I felt relieved to finally receive a full diagnosis.
Dr. Swainston told me a robotic hysterectomy would likely be the best treatment to remove the fibroids, cysts, and excess uterine tissue that were causing my problems, but he wanted me to get an MRI to confirm the diagnosis. He also recommended I return to him after the MRI so he could perform a biopsy to rule out any other issues. After undergoing all the recommended diagnostic tests, the diagnosis was confirmed.
Moving Forward with a Robotic Hysterectomy
Now I faced a dilemma. In order to receive a robotic hysterectomy from Dr. Swainston at miVIP, I needed to leave my long-term OB-GYN. This broke my heart. I wanted to discuss things with him, so I called his office to make an appointment. His office informed me that, unfortunately, because both doctors were within the same network, insurance wouldn’t cover care from both providers. This posed a challenge.
It was possible to switch my gynecology care to Dr. Swainston temporarily so he could perform the hysterectomy and then I could go back to seeing my regular gynecologist after that. This seemed like a good solution at first because I wanted to maintain my relationship with my regular gynecologist—he had delivered all three of my children! However, after some deliberation I decided to go with Dr. Swainston moving forward. Had it not been for him and his guidance through diagnostic testing, I would not have known the extent of my underlying problems and my need for treatment. I called Dr. Swainston’s office and said, “I’m ready, let’s do this!”
The staff at miVIP and Dr. Swainston did some negotiating with my insurance company to ensure my robotic hysterectomy with him at miVIP Surgery Centers would be fully covered. The miVIP team scheduled my procedure for May 18, 2018, and then assisted in coordinating my pre-op preparations. It was very helpful that they could accommodate me on a Saturday. This meant my husband would be available to be with our kids and I wouldn’t have to find a sitter.
Getting Minimally Invasive Hysterectomy Surgery and VIP Care
When I arrived at miVIP Surgery Centers on the morning of my procedure, I was greeted by nurse Shannon, my patient advocate. She escorted me back to the pre-op room. We were joined by another miVIP nurse, who set up my IV and helped prep me for surgery. Soon my anesthesiologist, Dr. Lee, arrived and explained everything to me. Everyone on the miVIP team made me feel very comfortable and welcome—this was especially surprising since they had to work on a Saturday!
Dr. Swainston came in to see me before the surgery and explained that, depending on how things looked in my reproductive system during the procedure, he was going to try and save at least one of my ovaries so that I wouldn’t go into abrupt menopause. Dr. Swainston told me that at age 40 I was too young to have to deal with the symptoms of menopause. He said he couldn’t promise, but if at all possible, he would save one ovary.
I woke up a couple of hours later in the recovery room with Shannon by my side. She greeted me with the news that Dr. Swainston had saved one ovary, thus reducing my risk for early-onset menopause. I was thrilled and relieved! Shannon and the team gave me VIP treatment, attending to all my needs for the two-plus hours I spent in the recovery room at miVIP. I was surprised that I didn’t have any post-op pain, and Shannon explained this was because at miVIP they inject a numbing agent at the surgical site to make the patient more comfortable during recovery, which is something that isn’t typically done in a hospital.
Once I started feeling better, the miViP team brought my family in to see me. Shannon outlined what we needed to do during my recovery period at home, (even suggesting that my husband, Sean, should massage my shoulders twice a day). When I was ready, she walked me out to the car. She followed up with me via telephone the next morning to make sure my recovery was going well.
I am happy to say that my convalescence at home went very well. This treatment has changed my life! I am finally pain-free and my friends and family members who have undergone hysterectomies are amazed at how well I am doing so soon after surgery. It’s an added bonus that, thanks to minimally invasive robotics, I have virtually no scars.
I honestly believe that Dr. Swainston is a genius at what he does. Not only that, from the start he took time with me to figure out exactly what was wrong and to explain everything in detail. I am so happy with my outcome. I owe special thanks to my friend Michelle for connecting me with Dr. Swainston and miVIP Surgery Centers! I am so excited for the new me and a new life free of pain!
This story was submitted by Amanda M., miVIP Surgery Centers patient, and was medically reviewed by Darin Swainston, MD, as part of miVIP’s Healthy Living Recommendations.