A Doctor on Several Missions
Compassionate care for women with urogynecological problems
One of the biggest challenges patients face is how to describe the symptoms they’re experiencing in a way that will enable their physicians to make an accurate diagnosis. Without benefit of a medical vocabulary, patients must rely on their own terminology to describe what they’re feeling. When the symptom is familiar and commonplace – ‘my throat is sore’ or ‘I twisted my ankle’ – the exchange is quick and straightforward, leaving little room for misunderstanding by either doctor or patient.
But when symptoms are new and unusual, patients can have difficulty describing them. And when those symptoms involve the most intimate areas of the body, patients can feel frustrated by their lack of vocabulary, and often embarrassed when trying to explain them. For women, fear of incontinence, coupled with the stigma associated with such conditions, can tie their tongues even further.
Dr. Christopher Walshe, of Atlantic Urogynecology, understands. Growing up with two sisters and his mother gave him “a certain comfort with, empathy for and understanding of women’s health issues.” He chose urogynecology – the diagnosis and treatment of urinary and bowel incontinence and female pelvic floor disorders – because it addresses the most complex, misdiagnosed and misunderstood female conditions.
Dr. Walshe is a graduate of the University of Vermont College of Medicine in Burlington, and is Board-certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology. He completed his residency in obstetrics and gynecology at Tripler Medical Center in Honolulu, and served a three-year fellowship in urogynecology and reconstructive pelvic surgery at Louisiana State University in New Orleans. He is a member of the Society of Gynecologic Surgeons, American Urogynecologic Society, American Urological Association, National Association for Continence, American Medical Association, Medical Society of Virginia and the Christian Medical and Dental Association. He is a fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and the American College of Surgeons.
The Language of Urogynecology
Women with pelvic floor disorders soon learn the new vocabulary doctors use to diagnose and treat their conditions. But even before that, Dr. Walshe assures his patients that they are not alone: he tells them that pelvic floor disorders affect a substantial proportion of women and increase with age. In fact, the National Institutes of Health estimates that by the year 2050, the number of American women with at least one pelvic floor disorder will increase to 58.1 million. Dr. Walshe understands these conditions have a profoundly negative influence on a woman’s quality of life.
He takes pains to describe each condition to apprehensive patients: interstitial cystitis, overactive bladder, pelvic organ prolapse, female urinary incontinence, anal incontinence, voiding dysfunction, and less common conditions like Mullerian defects.
He explains treatment options just as carefully, from the advanced non-surgical and surgical reconstructive techniques he employs to diagnose and treat women with pelvic dysfunction disorder.
Dr. Walshe’s mission – and the mission of Atlantic Urogynecology – is to comprehensively and compassionately address and care for women with pelvic floor disorders. But that isn’t his only mission.
A Mission and a Heart for Service
As challenging as it can be for his patients to find the right words to describe their most intimate symptoms, Dr. Walshe is accustomed to dealing with women facing a different communication barrier: language itself. He has thus far led missions to Nigeria, where the major languages include Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo, Edo, Fulfulde, Kanuri and Ibibo, to perform surgeries on women with the most devastating urogynecological condition – obstetric fistulas – which can cause leakage of urine or feces from the vagina, resulting in frequent vaginal and bladder infections and other painful complications. These women are often blamed for their conditions, and become pariahs, social outcasts with no quality of life.
Dr. Walshe became aware of the plight of these women during his residency, when he overheard part of a conversation in which the word ‘fistula’ was spoken. He was familiar with the word, but had not dealt personally with the condition. He researched, and immediately knew he wanted to make treating women with fistulas part of his practice. He chose his fellowship with that as a primary focus, and was fortunate enough to work with Dr. Lewis Wall, an anthropologist, obstetrician and gynecologist internationally known for his work in Africa treating women who had sustained fistulas during childbirth.
During his trips to Nigeria, Dr. Walshe works from dawn until midnight, performing the surgeries that will literally transform the lives of these women. The operating conditions can be harsh – electricity is unreliable, so he makes sure flashlights are handy. There is other deadly disease extant – HIV, malaria – and there is always the spectre of political and social tension. For many, the challenge would be too great and the fear too real. But Dr. Walshe, a man of deep Christian faith, never feels vulnerable in any operating theatre. It is his belief and his faith that steady his hand and his resolve.
There is More to Be Done
Dr. Walshe knows there’s no time for fear. For every one woman he helps, he knows he’s just scratching the surface of the monumental problem in Africa. He estimates that for every one case he’s able to identify, there are three or more that are never treated, for a myriad of reasons – not least among them climate, the obstetrical environment, transportation, lack of education and poor health care in general in the third world.
So he will persist. He’s already planning his next mission, this time to the Congo.
Until then, he will continue to serve the women of Hampton Roads with compassion and care, and with the most current and innovative modalities – some of which he has invented and developed himself. Working with the LSU School of Engineering, the Microsystem Engineering Team and Tulane Regional Primate Center during his fellowship, Dr. Walshe helped develop the first animal model for fistula formation, which enabled greater study and understanding of the condition.
His most recent invention, a tissue anchoring system, has been patented in the United States, Europe and Australia. It has implications not just for pelvic floor dysfunction, urinary incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, but for other surgical applications as well.
The ideas for such innovations come to him fast and furious, and he gives the credit to the same source from which he draws his strength – his intense faith in The Great Physician.
For Dr. Walshe, his partnership with God is the most important aspect of his practice, his missions and his life. “I couldn’t do any of it without Him,” he says. “I wouldn’t have gotten here; I wouldn’t be able to help women here and in Africa. I wouldn’t have the health I need to make that happen.”
He recalls the moment he realized the impact that partnership has on his patients. He was talking with a woman who was thanking him profusely for literally changing her life through his care. “What I had done for her didn’t seem to warrant such effusive praise,” he says, “and then I realized that I hadn’t been taking into account everything that had been present in our interaction. There was so much more than what I brought to it by myself.”
Dr. Walshe knows that he’s not alone when he talks with women, when he operates on them and when he comforts them. “If I didn’t have His help,” he says, his joy evident, “I wouldn’t be able to do any of this. He is what fuels the fire.”