You Don't Have to Live with the Pain of Fibroids

Archive, Health and Fitness, Patient Stories

Robotic gynecologic surgery gives patient amazing results with minimum scarring

The thought of having a hysterectomy, which is the removal of the uterus, can be upsetting to women. They often associate the procedure with speeding up their biological clock and starting their pre-menopausal experience too soon. However, that does not have to be the case.

“A lot of individuals are concerned that they will experience symptoms like hot flashes when they have a hysterectomy, but that doesn’t have to be the case,” says Michael Engel, DO, board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist at McLaren Flint.

For some cultures, having a hysterectomy without having kids can be a disappointment to families.

“I think in the African American community, it's frowned upon if you're unable to conceive naturally,” explains Sherrene Rigby, who is in her 40’s. “If you have a hysterectomy, you know that's final. There is no coming back from that.”

Rigby was hesitant when Dr. Engel advised that she needed to have a hysterectomy during her first visit with him. She suffered from fibroids a diagnosis she received five years earlier while living in New York. Rigby’s physician told her they were small and advised her not to get them removed if she planned on having children. Since she was not experiencing pain at the time, she thought it was not a big deal. Fast forward five years – Dr. Engel had to tell Rigby that the fibroids have gotten larger.

Sherrene Rigby poses near The Lion King poster on Broadway in 2017, about three years before she underwent a hysterectomy.

“The biggest problem with fibroids is that they can cause heavy bleeding,” explains Dr. Engel. “Women can become significantly anemic. When the uterus is trying to contract and expel its lining each month, women can also have extremely painful periods. In Sherrene’s case, her uterus was 13 to 15 times the normal size and her abdomen was protruding due to the fibroids. She was having to urinate frequently and had heavy bleeding. For unknown reasons, fibroids are a prevalent problem in African American women.”

So, Rigby scheduled her procedure with Dr. Engel, but shortly after, she decided to cancel. She was determined to find another treatment option. She thought she could have a myomectomy instead, which would allow for the removal of only the fibroids from the uterus. Rigby also planned to get a second opinion, but before finding another physician, she found herself in McLaren Flint’s Emergency Department. Rigby says her cycle was extremely heavy for 24 hours and she started to become weak. The attending physician gave her the second opinion she was not looking for.

“She told me, ‘To be honest with you, even if you were to have the fibroids removed, because of where they are positioned, it’s extremely unlikely you would be able to carry a child,’” explained Rigby. “After hearing that from her, my husband and I decided it didn’t make sense to see another physician.”

She contacted Dr. Engel’s office and rescheduled her surgery. Dr. Engel explained to Rigby how he would be able to do the surgery with the da Vinci Xi robot which allows for smaller incisions and quicker recoveries. The plan was to spare her ovaries.

“Sherrene had one of the largest uteruses I’ve removed in the five years of using the da Vinci Xi,” said Dr. Engel. “I had to make sure that she was aware if I was not able to get the fibroids out with the normal small incisions, I would have to use a larger incision and perform a traditional hysterectomy. In the operating room, the surgery lasted longer than expected, as I had to cut the uterus into a sausage-like shape and pull it out little by little, but it was a success.”

To Rigby’s surprise, she had her surgery that morning and was discharged by mid-afternoon. After having a traditional hysterectomy, women are expected to have a four to six-week recovery period.

Sherrene Rigby estimates she lost nearly 10 pounds after having a hysterectomy at the beginning of 2020. Michael Engel, DO says a normal uterus weighs around 60-70 grams, but Ribgy's weighed around 1400 grams.

“That robotic surgery is just out of this world,” says Rigby. “Once I got home and settled, the pain was there, but it was not to the extent of pain people who have had the traditional hysterectomy explained to me. Everyone could not believe how quickly I was able to bounce back. I was even able to return to work one week after surgery.”

Rigby now says she wishes the physician in New York would have explained the possibility of fibroid growth and what her next steps of controlling the pain and bleeding would have been when she was given the diagnosis.

“I’m just grateful that everything lined up the way it did. After I thought about what I went through in the last three to four years, I knew it was something I had to do. Do not neglect your health,” encourages Rigby. “Your quality of life drastically changes after this procedure. Just put your trust in a good physician.”

For more information on McLaren Flint’s women’s health services, visit www.mclaren.org/flintwomenshealth. For more information gynecologic procedures with the da Vinci Xi, visit www.mclaren.org/main/da-vinci-gynecologic-surgery.