As a kindergarten teacher, Katie Bernath’s day is pretty much non-stop. “Lots of hands-on, lots of tying shoes, bending over at tables helping students one on one…I don’t really get any breaks…it’s hard to find time to go to the bathroom,” said Katie.
It became a huge challenge a couple of years ago when Katie felt the urge to use the bathroom every few minutes. “I thought I had a UTI [urinary tract infection], and instead of going to the doctor I had them prescribe something over the phone. I got better but I was still going to the bathroom every 5-10 minutes, I felt like I had to go.”
Turns out, it wasn’t a urinary tract infections–and her symptoms got worse.
“I did a lot of sitting. I was very tired. I was in a lot of pain,” said Katie. “I remember my fiancé was with me and I couldn’t move, I couldn’t stand up straight, I was in so much pain. I said, “I have to go to the hospital.”
Katie was just 25 years old so she was surprised when tests showed she might have a vascular problem. Andrew Seiwert, MD, from Jobst Vascular Institute, looked at Katie’s scans and knew right away what was wrong.
“He came back and said, ‘Yep, it’s nutcracker syndrome,’ and I said, ‘OK, what’s that?'” explained Katie.
Nutcracker syndrome is a type of pelvic congestion syndrome–a condition caused by varicose veins in the lower abdomen that can cause severe pain, make it difficult to sit or ride in a car, and, in Katie’s case, it was affecting her kidney function.
“With nutcracker syndrome, you have to think of an old-fashioned nutcracker. If the angle is bad, the artery clamps down on the vein,” said Dr. Seiwert. “All of the blood going into the left kidney can’t get out of the left kidney, and so it’s looking for someplace else to go.”
“Probably the easiest way of thinking about that is to back as a kid putting a rubber band on your finger,” explained Dr. Seiwert. “It’s fun to watch your finger turn purple, but after about 30-45 seconds, it becomes painful because the blood gets into your finger but can’t get out.”
Correcting that issue used to mean major surgery with a 12-18 inch incision and up to a year of recovery. But Katie opted to try a new procedure, developed just two years ago by Chicago surgeon John White. With laparoscopic surgery and a much smaller incision, a general surgeon moves the bowel out of the way temporarily so Dr. Seiwert can easily reach and repair the vascular issue, just a 2-3 hour procedure.
“When John White published this in 2016, it was an ‘ah ha’ moment,” said Dr. Seiwert. “We have had great success with this so far and think it’s the way to go.”
Katie is now not only a teacher, but a bit of a pioneer–one of the first patients in Ohio to undergo this new procedure. Just three weeks after surgery, she was back in the classroom and back to her old self again.
“It’s fun! I can bend over, I have no pain. If I have to go to the bathroom, it’s not like it was a year and a half ago,” said Katie. “100% I’d do the surgery all over again. I feel like I’m a better teacher for it.”