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For 13 years, Rebecca Edwards’ life revolved around pain.
She tried working in her chosen career as a journalist, but after a while, she had to quit because it was too difficult to be out and about. She tried seeing specialists, but none of them could figure out the source of her pain. Then, finally, she tried UW Health’s Renal Autotransplant Program. Now, she feels she’s finally on the path to a pain-free life.
Rebecca’s pain began when she was in college. It was primarily in her pelvis and caused gastrointestinal problems, so she started by seeing various gastroenterologists. For years, they thought she had irritable bowel syndrome and told her there wasn’t anything they could do about her problems.
Then, she decided her issue must be more of a problem with her reproductive system, so she sought help from an obstetrician and gynecologist. That doctor diagnosed her with endometriosis, but the treatment for that disease didn’t relieve her pain. “They just basically told me the pain was all in my head from stress,” she said.
Meanwhile, as Rebecca grew older, the pain got worse and kept her from exercising or working. She depended on her husband to support her financially; coping with the pain was her full-time job. She and her husband wanted to start a family, but she knew that was out of the question as long as she was so miserable.
In 2021, an OB/GYN performed laparoscopic surgery to treat what he thought was endometriosis, and saw that Rebecca had pelvic congestion syndrome, a condition that affects the veins in the pelvis. “He showed me pictures of my pelvic organs covered with these swollen, large red veins because the blood wasn’t able to flow back out,” she said. “For years, I had been told there was nothing wrong with me. It turned out there was something very wrong with me.”
She went to the UW Health Interventional Radiology Department and underwent a venogram, a procedure in which a technician injects dye into the veins that can be seen on an X-ray. That test confirmed Rebecca had significant narrowing of the vein draining her kidney, and the radiologist referred her to David Foley, MD, Medical Director of UW Health’s Renal Autotransplant Program.
“The staff at UW Health were amazing from the start,” says Rebecca. “They knew immediately what was going on with my body. I can’t describe the relief of finding someone who took me seriously and knew how to help.”
Dr. Foley felt her pain was due to compression of the vein draining her kidney and he recommended a renal autotransplant—a procedure in which he would remove Rebecca’s left kidney and place it lower in her abdomen to relieve the pressure on her vein. Rebecca underwent the surgery in February 2022.
In late September, Rebecca underwent an additional surgery to remove a tumor in her liver. She is in the process of recovering from that procedure, but she says the pain in her left kidney area is completely gone now. She and her husband have even started talking out the possibility of having children.
“I think it’s important to persevere when you are trying to get help,” she says. “You know your own body. My body had been trying to tell me to get help for so long.”