Through skilled surgical treatment and modern regenerative medicine, a grandmother’s legacy lives on
Knowing that we can alleviate some of my patients’ symptoms to make their everyday life experiences richer, fuller, perhaps less burdened is very gratifying.
Dr. Halina Zyczynski
Growing up in Greenpoint, a Polish neighborhood in Brooklyn, Dr. Halina Zyczynski was part of a traditional multigenerational household, where her grandmother had as much of a hand in raising her as her mother did. In fact, though she was born in the United States, Zyczynski didn’t learn to speak English until she enrolled in kindergarten, a fact that she says contributes to the precise tempo of her speaking style.
But it was her grandmother’s presence that most profoundly influenced her future career working in disorders that frequently plague older women.
“She taught me about aging, and about some of the challenges of aging, and now to not sweat the small stuff and to put pain in perspective,” says Zyczynski, director of the UPMC Magee-Women’s Hospital Division of Urogynecology and Reconstructive Pelvic Surgery. “But I also saw her embarrassed and hiding her urinary incontinence, and it was something that I wished that I could do something about.”
Her grandmother lived to be 101, so her influence carried over into Zyczynski’s years as a young college and then medical student. Today, her practice addresses disorders of the pelvic floor, including surgery and regenerative therapies to repair prolapsed organs that fall as a result of trauma, such as birth, or due to age or possibly genetic factors.
According to the National Institutes of Health, such conditions occur in nearly one quarter of all U.S. women, and the risk rises with age. More than 40 percent of women who are 60 to 79 experience pelvic floor disorders, and about half of women who are 80 or older. In Zyczynski’s practice, about 25 percent of the patients are 75 or older — a population she cherishes.
“The type of knowledge, the wisdom that my grandparents demonstrated and that I got to appreciate is so valued by me,” she says. “It’s not book knowledge; it’s life knowledge. And my patients continue to teach me every day. They’re helping me personally get older and learn how to live a fruitful life with my husband, my children, and how to take care of other older women.”
Zyczynski also takes pride in the significant positive impact her subspecialty can make on patients’ lives.
“My patients have raised children, they've raised grandchildren, they've cared for and loved their spouses. They’re of the sandwich generation. They've cared for their mothers and their grandmothers. It’s a privilege to now take care of them,” she says. “Knowing that we can alleviate some of my patients’ symptoms to make their everyday life experiences richer, fuller, perhaps less burdened is very gratifying.”