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For one tough Army soldier, tough medical problem solved

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July 16, 2018
FirstHealth of the Carolinas
News Release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                   July 13, 2018
                                                                                             Media Contact: Ellen Cooper
  Corporate Communications
                                                                                                                       (910) 715-1471
For one tough Army soldier, tough medical problem solved
PINEHRUST – U.S. Army soldier Christina Griggs was exhausted. Was it due to her job overseeing training operations and staffing for 1,500 soldiers? Or her busy family life with her husband and two children—plus a menagerie of pets, including dogs, chickens, a cat and rabbits?
That lifestyle would be a challenge for most. But the true cause of Griggs’ fatigue was also the long-misdiagnosed cause of her urinary incontinence (leaking of urine), constant pain in her abdomen, and the urge to go to the bathroom all the time—night and day.
“I got no rest at night,” says Griggs, 37. “And during the day, I had a fear of leaking, whether running in formation on the base or jumping out of planes (during parachuting exercises).”
Other symptoms included blood in her urine and a feeling of heaviness in her bladder.
When she did have leaks, she found ways to cover it up: dark pants, sitting down suddenly or quickly going to change clothes.
“It was embarrassing at work, and even at home.”
For five years and despite multiple visits to doctors, she found no solution. “I’d tried everything I could think of, and I didn’t get better,” she says.
When she finally visited Janet E. Harris-Hicks, M.D., a physician at FirstHealth of the Carolinas, an answer and a cure came quickly.
“I needed a specialist, and she had the answers,” she says. “I went from not knowing what was wrong to finding the right diagnosis and having surgery to correct it, all within a week. It was such a relief.”
As an urogynecologist, Dr. Harris-Hicks has special training in pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery, as well as in obstetrics and gynecology. Though not a well-known field of medicine—among the public or even among some physicians—urogynecologists offer a variety of treatment options for women like Griggs who have “pelvic floor” disorders.
The pelvic floor is made up of muscles, ligaments, connective tissue and nerves that support the bladder, uterus, vagina and rectum. When it does not function properly, it can lead to pelvic organ prolapse (or dropping), urinary incontinence and fecal (stool) incontinence. It can also cause pain and embarrassing symptoms like those Griggs experienced.
Pelvic floor disorders are very common—affecting about one in four women, according to the National Institutes of Health. They are more common in older adults and Caucasians, but they affect women of all ages. Dr. Harris-Hicks has treated women in their 20s and up through their 90s.
Before connecting with a specialist, many, like Griggs, are misdiagnosed.
“Mrs. Griggs’ story is not unusual,” Dr. Harris-Hicks says. “Women visit our office every day that have been living with these symptoms, and many have seen an average of five other doctors before they get the proper diagnosis.”
Symptoms can drastically affect their quality of life, she says. But they shouldn’t.
“There’s so much that can be done, from physical therapy to medicines to very minor surgeries,” she says. “A specialist can help you find the most effective treatment. The most important message I want to share is, ‘you don’t have to live with it.’”
Griggs treatment included medicines to calm the inflamed lining of her bladder, which was causing so much pain. For incontinence, Dr. Harris-Hicks performed surgery to correct the urethra, the tube through which urine moves from the bladder to outside the body. The solution was a device, a “mid-urethral sling,” to support the urethra so it could function properly.
Though the surgery made a dramatic difference for Griggs, it was a minor one-day procedure. Dr. Harris-Hicks placed the sling “transvaginally” (using the natural opening of the vagina), instead of using "open surgery," which would require a large incision (cut) on the abdomen. This means a faster recovery time and faster return to work or other activities.
It’s a procedure Dr. Harris-Hicks has a lot of experience with, performing it about 300 times a year. She is also involved in clinical research trials to improve options for women with pelvic floor disorders. [See sidebar.]
“Battling constant pain and fatigue affected me at home and at work, and I was so tired by the time I found Dr. Harris-Hicks,” Griggs says. “But her entire team advocated for me. That’s what I needed to get me through to the finish line.”
Griggs now enjoys both hard work and family time in a way she hasn’t been able to for years.
FirstHealth study
Patients enroll in trial to study cure for incontinence
One in four women has a health condition related to injury of the "pelvic floor,” a system of tissues that support the bladder, uterus, vagina and rectum. Symptoms could include urinary incontinence, or leaking of urine. A team at FirstHealth is now enrolling volunteers in a clinical trial for a treatment that has greater benefits than many other options available today.
The treatment is not yet available everywhere. In fact, FirstHealth is one of only 29 locations in the country to offer it as part of a nationwide FDA-approved study.
“For women who need surgery to improve support of the pelvic floor and treat urinary incontinence, we once used a procedure that required an open abdominal incision,” says Janet E. Harris-Hicks, M.D., a physician at FirstHealth of the Carolinas who specializes in urogynecology. That surgery requires several nights stay in the hospital and extended recovery time. “Now, we can achieve superior, longer lasting results using a procedure that requires only one small vaginal incision, and patients go home the same day.”
Dr. Harris-Hicks performs the procedure as part of the trial to study a device called the “ALTIS Single Incision Mid-urethral Sling.” During the surgery, the urogynecologist places the “sling” at the mid-portion of the urethra, to provide support to damaged pelvic muscles. Unlike other treatments to place similar slings, surgery for this device requires only one incision.
“We offer many different ways to treat urinary incontinence, but we’re always looking for the next best option,” she says. “This trial could lead us to that.”
Treatments like this can be life changing. [See feature.]
“We want women to be aware that incontinence when laughing, coughing, sneezing and exercising is not normal, nor are other symptoms of pelvic floor disorders,” Dr. Harris-Hicks says. “And you don’t have to just live with it or suffer through it.”
For information about treatment options, including the trial, visit
Janet E. Harris-Hicks, M.D.
Ellen Cooper, Corporate Communications
(910) 715-1471