Helen FortnerThe medical topic of fecal incontinence is not one that many like to talk about. It’s a diagnosis that can bring embarrassment and shame, and for many patients who suffer from bowel and bladder control problems, their mental health can be severely impacted. For 67-year-old Helen Fortner, her life came to a crashing halt about ten years ago, when she was diagnosed with fecal incontinence and ulcerative colitis.

Ulcerative colitis (UC) is an inflammatory bowel disease, in which the lining of the colon becomes inflamed and develops tiny open sores, or ulcers. Symptoms include loose and urgent bowel movements, bloody stool, persistent diarrhea, abdominal cramps and pain. The only cure for UC is removing the entire colon, otherwise known as a colectomy.

Traveling, being social with friends and spending time outdoors is how Helen best lived her life. But, living with UC meant she couldn’t do any of those things anymore. The UC caused her to have uncontrollable bowel movements and essentially kept her home bound. She could no longer go out with friends, or if she mustered up the courage to, she always had to bring a change of clothes. Helen said her mental health was suffering as a result.

“I was wearing diapers, I was not going out much. It was pretty hard on me,” recalled Helen.

Helen needed immediate care, and was referred to Kashyap Trivedi, M.D., a board-certified gastroenterologist at MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center. Dr. Trivedi helped Helen manage her UC with various medications, and in 2016, he introduced her to try the FDA-approved treatment called InterStim™ Therapy.

InterStim™ Therapy is an implantable device that treats overactive bladder, fecal incontinence, and urinary incontinence. The device sends mild electrical pulses to stimulate the sacral nerves. These nerves control the muscles of the pelvic floor, urinary and anal sphincters, lower urinary tract and colon. Helen responded well to the temporary implantation, and it was determined she was the perfect candidate to receive the InterStim™ Therapy as a permanent form of treatment for her UC.

Helen recalled working with Dr. Trivedi and said, “He wanted me to live this good life.”

That’s when Helen was referred to Jocelyn B Craig, M.D., who is the Medical Director of the Pelvic Health Center at MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center. She is a board-certified physician specializing in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery.

We see the conditions of our patients who receive the InterStim™ Therapy improve by 75 to 80-percent, which is a game-changer for many of them.

Dr. Craig

Dr. Craig implanted Helen’s InterStim™ Therapy device in 2017. The InterStim™ placement is performed in the outpatient surgery setting, and Helen was able to go home on the same day. The InterStim™ implant is controlled by the patient via a wireless handheld device. The device allows patients, like Helen, to adjust the strength of stimulation to her sacral nerves. Essentially, when Helen utilizes her wireless handheld device, she is adjusting her bowel function. The implant is battery operated, and patients typically follow up with their physician annually for a wellness check on the battery.

Helen said she’s so grateful for the excellent care she received from both Dr. Trivedi and Dr. Craig. Because of them, she said, she’s back to living a healthy and normal life.

“The InterStim™ has helped me to control my bowel movements. I’m able to live a full life and travel. It’s just been a life-saver for me, it has totally changed my life and how I can live now,” exclaimed Helen.

Dr. Craig said she performs this procedure regularly, but the topic of bowel incontinence remains to be a topic that many, even in the medical community, shy away from discussing it. She said Helen is brave to share her story to bring awareness to others who may also be suffering.

“It gives me goosebumps, because at the end of the day most people went into medicine because they want to help people,” said Dr. Craig. “To hear that someone can reclaim their life, that they thought they had lost, it’s a wonderful feeling. I want Helen to be an example that others don’t have to suffer in silence.”