A Happy End to Endometriosis

After seven years of visiting countless physicians, Courtney Peterson was able to change her life with the help of the specialists at GW Hospital.

Ever since the birth of her first child seven years ago, Courtney Peterson, a resident of Washington, DC, had a nondescript pain that would settle in her lower back. She also experienced heavy bleeding during her menstrual cycle, and a shooting pain in her rectum that “never went away.” Numerous visits to physicians didn’t help.

Courtney“I had many years of doctors dismissing the pain or attributing it to kidney stones or sciatica,” says Peterson, a wife and mother of two small girls. She had several surgeries for fibroids over the years, and an operation to put an adhesion barrier in place. Her physician at that time suggested she could have endometriosis, which is when tissue from inside the uterus implants itself outside the organ.

Peterson knew something was terribly wrong after an especially scary bout of pain that left her doubled up on the bathroom floor and unable to take her kids to school. She says she had to “become her own advocate” and turned to social media to find the answer.

“The Internet is very powerful,” she says, noting that she spent hours researching endometriosis online and reading blogs from women who had similar experiences. She noticed that the George Washington University Hospital and Cherie Marfori, MD, FACOG, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, kept coming up. She called Dr. Marfori and scheduled an appointment in April.

After listening to Peterson’s story, Dr. Marfori drew a diagram, explaining what she believed was the problem: endometriosis on the uterosacral ligament and in the rectum. An MRI confirmed the diagnosis was correct. At that point, the doctor presented all the options for managing the condition, which ranged from medication to a hysterectomy.

Peterson initially opted for medication therapy, which involved a high dose of progesterone that would shut down the ovulation function of her uterus. Having her menstrual cycle was what was sending her body into crisis mode, so stopping her cycle would stop the problem. And it did to some degree.

“I was functional. I got through the spring and summer,” she says. “But I started to wonder whether I wanted to be on hormone medication the rest of my life.” This sent Peterson back to Dr. Marfori to discuss the pros and cons of a hysterectomy.

Dr. Marfori’s proposed treatment plan was to remove the parts of Peterson’s body that were causing the problem – the uterus and left uterosacral ligament – but keep her ovaries intact. “She didn’t want to send me into menopause and possible osteoporosis at age 38,” says Peterson. The procedure would be done laparoscopically with three tiny incisions. The uterus would be removed through the vagina and the other affected areas would be sectioned and removed through the incisions.

Because the surgery would be minimally invasive, recovery was expected to be quick.

“With a traditional hysterectomy, you used to go down for six to eight weeks. I knew I couldn’t afford that. I have a busy ‘DC’ life,” says Peterson, who is head of human resources at a school in Washington.

Her surgery on October 8, 2013 was successful. After four days, Peterson stopped her pain medication, and after two weeks returned to work. She speaks highly of the whole GW gynecologic team, and Dr. Marfori, who she says is, “the first person that took me seriously.” She says her surgery was “life-changing.”

“Feeling safe with your hospital team gives you courage,” says Peterson. “I didn’t know this … or I would have done it a long time ago. You really don’t have to live with pain.”