It's a delicate subject for many women to discuss, but one that's worth talking about. One out of five women in the US suffers from heavy, painful periods attributed to uterine fibroids. In older women, it's the most common reason for getting a hysterectomy. But in younger women, fibroids can get in the way of getting pregnant.
Now women can get help from a robot named da Vinci.
"I thought something was wrong with me, because of how long it was taking," said Toniika Debow of Desert Hot Springs. She and her husband tried to get pregnant for a year and a half. In her mid-20's, it should be easy.
"I've had heavy periods my entire life," she offered. That was the first clue Debow had uterine fibroids.
Eventually she got pregnant, but, "It was a concern that I probably wouldn't be able to carry (the baby) to term," said Debow. "I had a high risk pregnancy. I had pre-eclampsia, excessive weight gain, swelling. It played a really big number on me."
"When the fibroids are within the cavity where implantation happens, the miscarriage rates are really high," explained Dr. Maher Abdallah, of American Reproductive Center in Palm Springs.
Dr. Abdallah worried about Debow getting, and staying pregnant again, and suggested da Vinci surgery.
It's fairly new technology that allows doctors to mechanically cut the fibroid without burning anything inside the uterus.
"Only three years ago, we were using energy to basically cauterize the fibroid, where we may damage the lining of the uterus while we were removing it," Abdallah explained.
He's used the da Vinci robot at Desert Regional Medical Center to perform myomectomy, or fibroid removal, more than 100 times, and demonstrated how it works.
"These are the arms that will be positioned inside the body," Abdallah gestured.
"Until recently, we were opening patients, and admitting them for a couple of nights, and have them take six weeks off of work. Now with the robotic technology, we're able to have the patient go home the same
day regardless of how large the fibroid is."
In Debow's case, the fibroids turned out to be large.
"I was very surprised," she said. "(Dr. Abdallah) showed me the pictures, and there were a lot of (fibroids). They were everywhere."
"She was in the recovery room for an hour, she went home, and a week later she was working," Abdallah added.
And the best part, two months later, without any help?
"I'm 25 weeks pregnant with my second child, and I'm having a boy!" Debow shared.
Recently the da Vinci robot made news when doctors learned the power-cutting tools often used after robotic surgery, called morcellators, might cause cancer to spread when they're used to perform hysterectomies. But Abdallah uses scissors instead of morcellators to remove the fibroids in his patients, and tests the fibroid before removing it.
In addition to myomectomies, and hysterectomies, the da Vinci is also used to remove the gallbladder of a patient, in a surgery that is sometimes described as "virtually scarless." The surgeon makes a small incision inside the belly button, inserts the robotic tools through that small hole and removes the gallbladder without leaving any visible scar line on the abdomen.
More more information on the da Vinci surgery, for myomectomy or hysterectomy, click here.