New procedure available for incontinence patients

Local couple first ones to schedule surgery together

A pace maker for the bladder

ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. - There is a new procedure available to help patients suffering from incontinence and a local couple are the first ones to ever have it done together.

Berry and Sam Ford have been married for 37 years. "Where you see one, you see the other one," said Betty, holding her husband's hand on the couch.

In 2009, Sam had a stroke and Betty became his primary caregiver. But then they both started having bladder problems. "Incontinence is the involuntary loss of urine, the inability to control bladder emptying," explained Dr. Bent Laing, a Urogynocologist.

The Fords went to see Dr. Laing. After about 40 visits and multiple other treatments, he suggested they try a new procedure called InterStim. "It sends a low-power frequency to the nerves in the pelvis that are involved in bladder control," said Laing.

He explained it's like a pace maker for the bladder. "It affects the nerve reflexes of the bladder and essentially calms the bladder down and suppresses the unwanted bladder activity," he explained.

The Fords scheduled to have their InterStim surgeries together at Sycamore Shoals Hospital. "We have nowhere on record a husband and wife being done on the same day," Laing said.

"I've always been there, no matter what. So I decided we needed to go in together so I could see him through it," Betty said.

The 20-minute outpatient procedure places a device in the patient's lower back near the hip. "You're going to be a little sore, I won't lie, but it's well worth it," she said.

The patients then can use a remote control at home to adjust their activity levels. "It lets them make sure they're getting the proper response over time that continues to be effective," said Laing.

"It made a world of difference. We always loved going to auctions and the flea market," Betty said. "But with this situation, we were house-bound and couldn't get out much."

Now she says there's nothing holding them back from living their lives. "We've been together for so long I wouldn't have it any other way," she told us.

Laing said about 34 million people in the U.S. suffer from overactive bladders. He added that $65 billion is spent each year dealing with incontinence issues.

He estimates the InterStim has been a growing trend in east Tennessee over the past three years. Only about 100,000 procedures have been done so far worldwide.

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