Sling Surgery for Incontinence Gives Holmdel Nurse Back Her Freedom
May 17, 2023
For years, Gina O’Donnell, 52, a surgical nurse at Bayshore Medical Center, suffered quietly from stress incontinence, believing it was the natural result of having four kids and working on her feet for decades.
“If I sneezed, coughed or ran—anything of that nature—I was leaking. But I figured it was manageable. I had all these tricks and things that I did so no one else would know but me,” she says.
Then in late 2021, when caring for a patient of urogynecologist Nina Bhatia, M.D., Gina realized there might be hope for her, too. “The patient was going in for surgery, and her symptoms were not nearly as severe as mine. The light bulb went on that maybe I would be a candidate, as well.”
Affecting Her Day-to-day Life
Gina immediately made an appointment to see Dr. Bhatia.
“We spent a lot of time listening to her story because it was pretty compelling the way her incontinence was affecting her day-to-day life. Throughout her day as she took care of patients, pretty much every movement she made would cause leakage,” says Dr. Bhatia.
Gina was tested for urinary infections and had a bladder scan to see if she was able to empty her bladder. She also underwent urodynamic testing—a non-invasive procedure done in Dr. Bhatia’s office—to see how her body was storing and releasing urine.
“Dr. Bhatia was very reassuring from the beginning, telling me that she could absolutely help me. I was thrilled,” says Gina.
Although urinary incontinence is common, affecting twice as many women as men, it’s not a normal fact of aging. Treatment options include:
- Pelvic floor therapy to improve muscle strength
- Vaginal inserts, similar to tampons, to provide additional support to the urethra
- Pessaries, prosthetic devices that can be placed into the vagina and removed by the patient depending on their symptoms
- Urethral sling surgery, in which a narrow strap of mesh is placed under the urethra to support it
- Urethral bulking, in which a gel is injected into the urethra to stop it from opening unexpectedly with activity
For Gina, Dr. Bhatia recommended a retro pubic sling, which gives significant support in cases of severe stress incontinence.
“We tell patients to expect about 90 percent improvement over their lifetime. We can't guarantee a 100-percent improvement, meaning that there might be very few instances where you might leak a small amount—but nothing compared to what you had before you had the sling put in,” says Dr. Bhatia.
‘It’s So Freeing’
The procedure is done as a day surgery, requiring mild sedation and taking about 20 minutes. Dr. Bhatia details how it works:
- First, a small incision is made in the vagina that corresponds to where the urethra is.
- Next, the sling is placed.
- Finally, the bladder is tested under anesthesia to see if the sling can support the urethra to the point that the patient's no longer leaking.
Gina’s surgery took place in the department where she works at Bayshore, which made for a unique experience for her. “One of my coworkers took care of me, and it was very strange to be lying in one of those beds. But it was a comfort to be there,” Gina says.
The difference the sling has made to Gina’s life is enormous.
“I can hike and bike again and do my exercise classes without wearing printed exercise pants with my sweatshirt tied around my waist. I don’t need to keep extra scrubs in my locker. It’s so freeing,” says Gina.
She hopes that sharing her story will help other women who were suffering in silence like she was. “No one wants to talk about stress incontinence, but there's help out there and Dr. Bhatia is the surgeon to see. She's just wonderful.”
Next Steps & Resources:
- Meet our source: Nina Bhatia, M.D.
- To make an appointment with a urogynecologist near you, call 800-822-8905 or visit our website.
The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.