D. Land Renfroe, M.D. Guest Column 1/6/2015

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 7, 2015

High tech restores quality of life to seniors

By D. Land Renfroe, M.D.
As a urologist, one of the most frustrating situations I witness is patients who are dominated by fear due to their inability to control their bodily functions.  In layman’s terms – patients who can’t control when they have to use the bathroom. 

The fact of the matter is that as we age, this becomes a more common problem.  And if you’ve ever had a relative or friend that can’t control these functions, you know it can become emotionally paralyzing for them.  I see patients who are literally afraid to leave their house because they feel the need to be close to a restroom at all times.  It doesn’t take more than one unfortunate accident to create this fear.  And let’s face it – it can be very embarrassing.    So, they shut down emotionally which occasionally leads to other symptoms such as depression and anxiety.  It’s just awful.

These aren’t issues that anybody particularly enjoys talking about.  Terms such as “fecal incontinence” and “bladder retention” don’t fit well on the cocktail circuit.   Bring it up at a dinner party and watch the room empty.  And when I started my urology training a few decades ago there really wasn’t a great solution for the most serious patients.  Diet alteration, medication, and behavioral modification were the first line of defense.  If none of those worked a patient was frequently left with adult diapers as their only help.  

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Technology is a wonderful thing, and it has benefited the medical field as much as any other.   While there are plenty of unsolved medical issues, our ability to diagnose and treat many problems are so much easier today than just a few decades ago.  I started experimenting with a tiny device in the late ‘90’s that would intermediate between the brain and the muscles that control fecal and urinary functions.  Yes, you read that right.  I’ve now performed thousands of these procedures and can testify that the results are nothing short of life changing for many patients.

The tiny device, called an InterStim – and made by the Medtronic corporation – is implanted in the patient and it emits a low frequency pulse that allows you to regain control of your fecal and urinary functions.  If it sounds like sci-fi – well it almost is except it isn’t fiction.  We test a patient to see if they would be a good candidate and, if they test well, we are seeing very high rates of success.  As a physician there is nothing more satisfying than working with a patient who had just about given up hope; and then performing a procedure that lets them regain their freedom and enthusiasm for life. 

There will never be a substitute for the human touch and the experience a physician brings to a situation.  The “bed side” manner they tell us about in med school, but don’t really teach.  But you combine that with truly breakthrough technology and we see the awesome results of what good medicine should be all about. 

(Dr. D. Land Renfroe is a board certified Urologist and the founding partner of Oxford Urological Associates in Oxford, MS.  He received both his undergraduate degree and medical degree from The University of Mississippi.)