Kathy Silva describes the 12-acre farm where she grew up and where her mother, Rosemary Cockrill, still lives. Life in scenic Port Angeles, Wash. could be low key if you let it. But Rosemary, 86, kicks it up a notch, making time to go to concerts, see a play or a movie, or take a class at the senior center.
“She’s never going to get old,” says Kathy, who lives about 20 miles from her mom, in the town of Joyce, and works for the local school district.
But Rosemary’s life wasn’t always so active. For years, she suffered the symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse, when weakened pelvic floor muscles and ligaments allow organs such as the bladder, uterus or rectum to drop, sometimes protruding out of the vagina. Pelvic organ prolapse develops over time, often long after childbirth has stretched connective tissues. When the bladder is the affected organ, a feeling of heaviness or pressure, compounded by the frequent need to urinate and the fear of accidents, can keep women from getting out and doing the things they enjoy.
It was her mom’s evaluation at Virginia Mason that got Kathy thinking about her own discomfort.
“My mom asked me to please look at Virginia Mason’s website to find a urologist who could help,” says Kathy. “I chose Dr. Una Lee, who specializes in pelvic organ prolapse, and all the information we needed about her was right there.”
Dr. Lee confirmed Rosemary would benefit from surgical intervention. A minimally invasive approach using small abdominal incisions to repair the prolapse, and a supportive sling placed to support Rosemary’s bladder and urethra would relieve the constant pressure and incontinence. There was just one problem. “My mom doesn’t like anything to do with hospitals and she wasn’t excited about any of it,” remembers Kathy.
It was her mom’s evaluation at Virginia Mason that got Kathy thinking about her own discomfort. She wasn’t having any urinary problems, but she’d been feeling like she was sitting on something, and was constantly adjusting her position to get comfortable. A visit to Dr. Lee confirmed Kathy was also suffering from pelvic organ prolapse, which she learned can be hereditary. If her mom wasn’t ready yet, maybe Kathy could blaze the trail.
Dr. Lee completed Kathy’s prolapse repair in one operation through the vagina. The success of her daughter’s surgery eventually moved Rosemary toward a decision. She would have the surgery.
“Mom goes anywhere she wants now,” says Kathy. “My son got married in Vegas, and Mom insisted on going. She flew on the plane and enjoyed the whole trip without worrying about the bathroom. I know the surgery is what helped her make that trip.”
At the two-year mark after Kathy’s surgery, a check-in with Dr. Lee confirmed there was still a problem with prolapsed tissue near the rectum. Kathy’s previous repair to support her bladder remained in place, but she needed a second surgery in another area to fix what’s known as a rectocele, or posterior vaginal prolapse. Kathy credits both procedures for making her good as new, “and that’s not bad for 66,” she says. She has an enduring gratitude for Dr. Lee and the care teams who have encouraged and supported her over the years at Virginia Mason.
“No one tells you when you get older what’s not normal, and women may not be confident talking about it,” says Kathy. “Dr. Lee is easy to talk to, and she really wants to know her patients.” Rosemary wholeheartedly agrees with her daughter, and then some. “Dr. Lee and this surgery have given me my life back,” she says.