Article originally published Fall 2022 in The Monitor magazine.
As someone who lives with the hormonal disorder polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), Sarah Hutchinson is used to navigating the oftentimes uncomfortable symptoms that can come with her condition, such as hormone imbalance and irregular menstrual cycles. So when Sarah began experiencing severe uterine pain several years after her PCOS diagnosis, she initially chalked it up as just another unpleasant symptom for her to manage. But as the pain became more severe, Sarah started to wonder if something else was going on with her body.
“I thought, this pain I’m having is way more than PCOS,” Sarah, 31, of Ashville recalled. “I knew something was wrong.”
Since Sarah’s mother and sisters all have endometriosis, Sarah began to wonder if she was suffering from the same condition, which
can be hereditary. Endometriosis is a disorder in which uterine tissue begins growing outside the uterus and spreading to other internal organs. The best way to diagnose endometriosis is through a laparoscopic surgical procedure in which the provider makes small incisions in the patient’s abdomen and inserts a camera to view the internal organs. If left untreated, endometriosis can progress and cause certain complications, including infertility.
With Sarah and her wife, Krist’n, hoping to start a family in the coming years, Sarah immediately shared her concerns with her gynecologist – but the conversation didn’t go as she expected.
“The response that I got was, ‘I hear you, but I don’t want to diagnose you with that because I don’t want to do surgery on you at such a young age,'” said Sarah, who was in her late 20s at the time. “I was extremely frustrated.”
Despite years of being with the same gynecologist, Sarah began to search for a second opinion. As a former education coordinator for Fairfield Medical Center, part of Sarah’s job involved onboarding new providers. It was during one of those onboarding
sessions that she met Dr. Emily Burnette of Fairfield Healthcare Professionals Obstetrics & Gynecology.
“When Dr. Burnette sat down with me, she saw all of our wedding pictures on my desk and, right away, she made that personal connection, asking about my wife and if we were going to be starting a family soon and who would be carrying the baby,” Sarah said. “She very quickly showed a personal interest in me, which made working with her even easier. I felt like having her as my provider just made sense, so I made the switch.”
Sarah’s first appointment with Dr. Burnette was in October 2019. Five months later, she underwent laparoscopic surgery at FMC, where Dr. Burnette was able to confirm what Sarah had suspected all along – she had endometriosis.
“There are four stages of endometriosis and mine ended up being Stage 2. The further the stages go, the more it eventually starts
to burn off your nerve endings, eaning you’re not going to be able to feel it when it starts to grow back,” Sarah said. “During the procedure, Dr. Burnette was able to burn off the growth that was there and do some other tests as well to make sure that when we do want to have kids, my fallopian tubes will be working normally.”
Dr. Burnette said laparoscopic surgery is the only way to truly diagnose and treat endometriosis and is typically the best option for women like Sarah who desire pregnancy. She said the hallmark symptoms of endometriosis are pain and infertility (see box, Page 14).
“Unfortunately, most women with endometriosis go undiagnosed for many years, either because they think their symptoms are normal, or their provider doesn’t recognize their symptoms as being abnormal,” Dr. Burnette said. “In general, it has been my experience that if I ask the right questions and listen to what a patient is saying about their experience, I have never been surprised to find endometriosis.”
Sarah said she is grateful to Dr. Burnette for listening to her and for taking the necessary steps to confirm her diagnosis.
“What I like about Dr. Burnette is she gives you options and makes you a part of the decisions surrounding your care,” Sarah said.
“A lot of times patients don’t understand the medical world, so they go in and expect the doctor to tell them what to do. With Dr. Burnette, she says, ‘Here’s what I think is going on with you, here are three or four different roads that we can take to help you get better. What would you like to do, what would fit your plan best?'”
Dr. Burnette said having an open dialogue with patients and working with them to find a solution that best fits their lifestyle and family planning goals will always result in the best outcome.
“Management strategies for endometriosis change as a person changes, and the best approach is tailored,” Dr. Burnette said. “There is no way to achieve that without an honest, open, and collaborative relationship.”
Sarah said she has been feeling much better since her surgery and has been working with Dr. Burnette to develop a plan of
care that will allow her to enjoy an active lifestyle with less pain, as well as begin family planning when she and Krist’n are ready. In addition to her full-time position as a Compliance Associate at FMC, Sarah also sings in two bands – Vital Signs and Everyday People. In July, she had the opportunity to perform with musician Elton Rohn during the Lancaster Festival.
“I think an important message to take away from my story is that it’s OK to be a decision-maker in your care, and it’s OK to seek care elsewhere when you are not getting the answers you need,” Sarah said. “I’m grateful that Dr. Burnette came into my life when she did. It makes you think about the power of coincidence, and how everything happens for a reason.”
To learn more about women’s health at Fairfield Medical Center, click here.