For decades, Maria Karous quietly dealt with a problem most women would rather not discuss: urinary incontinence. Beginning with the birth of her daughter, if she coughed or laughed, she leaked small amounts of urine. And forget about those times when she was battling a headcold.
In those instances, “you might as well sit on the bowl all day,” she jokes.
She got used to it, after a fashion, protecting herself against leaks with pads and trying to avoid drinking too many liquids.
Over time, Karous lost almost all control over her bladder. Even doubling up on pads didn’t stop it; she found herself held hostage by her condition, an untenable situation for a woman who wanted to remain active. She sought medical treatment at the Women’s Center for Bladder and Pelvic Health at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC.
Amongst the treatment choices discussed, surgery afforded her the highest odds of being dry again. Specifically, her doctor recommended a midurethral mesh sling, in which a strip of knitted mesh is positioned under the urethra to prevent urine leakage with activities. Karous, who was willing to try almost anything, agreed.
Today, she considers the September 2015 surgery to be life-altering. She couldn’t wait to tell her doctor how much of a difference the procedure made in her life.
“There was such a great freedom, knowing I didn’t have to use pads, that I had control,” she says. “I know that sounds so theatrical. But when you’ve been peeing for years, a little bit here and a little bit there, and it gets worse ...”
She has since spoken to family members about the benefits of mesh, including her now 42-year-old daughter. She only wishes she had the procedure sooner, instead of living in silence with varying degrees of incontinence for decades.
“It was a long time coming. I didn’t even know that mesh would help with your bladder,” she says, which is why she is so willing to discuss it now — she wants to help others who share her problem, as well as her concerns. “I wish I would have known more and had more information.”