UH Urology Team Restores Patient’s Quality of Life
May 30, 2023
For many of us, 2021 was a complicated year. Northeast Ohio native, Danielle Cooper, however, had an especially difficult time. At the end of 2020, Danielle tragically lost her boyfriend to COVID-19 and only one month later was diagnosed with cervical cancer.
In January 2021, Danielle was experiencing intense lower back pain and went to the emergency room to seek help. She was given pain pills. When the discomfort persisted, her primary care provider recommended a transvaginal ultrasound. The ultrasound revealed a cervical tumor, which had developed into Stage 3 cervical cancer.
“I went through extensive radiation treatments for about four months, followed by almost two months of chemotherapy. And then we did five high-dose radiation treatments called brachytherapy,” said Danielle.
Unfortunately, the high-dose radiation that successfully eradicated her cancer, caused two complex fistulas. A fistula is an abnormal connection between two body parts – such as an organ or blood vessel and another structure. Depending on the location, leakage that occurs as a result of a fistula can be serious and even life-threatening. Radiation is responsible for nearly half of all fistulas that occur in patients.
In July of 2021, Danielle met with an Akron-area urologist in hopes of finding care for her fistulas. Due to the complexity of her case, Danielle’s best option at the time was the placement of nephrostomy tubes.
Nephrostomy tubes are made of thin plastic, and are inserted in the back to access the kidneys. These tubes are used to collect urine and excess waste. For eight months, Danielle lived with the discomfort of these tubes until she did some research of her own and consulted her doctors.
“I talked to my care team and they referred me to the urology team at University Hospitals. They were the ones who were able to perform my wild and crazy surgery.”
Rachel Pope, MD and Kyle Scarberry, MD are highly specialized surgeons with University Hospitals Urology Institute. A gynecologist and urologist respectively, the two have repaired countless urinary fistulas together, including several that were just as complex, or more, than Danielle’s.
Having recently returned from a trip to Sub-Saharan Africa where the pair spent time repairing difficult fistulas that occurred due to lack of access to care during childbirth, Drs. Pope and Scarberry were confident they could help Danielle. Leveraging the experience of an eerily similar case halfway around the world, the two knew exactly how they would perform the surgery.
In the operating room, Danielle’s care team was able to repair her fistulas and remove the nephrostomy tubes. Her surgery was unique in that Drs. Pope and Scarberry were able to repair her fistula vaginally – keeping her bladder intact and reconstructing the section of the vagina that was affected by the radiation. As she recovered, Danielle noticed substantial improvements in her physical and mental wellbeing.
“Drs. Pope and Scarberry had a lot of experience, so that was good to hear. They’ve been very informative, very caring, very compassionate. Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better team.”
Prior to surgery, Danielle and Dr. Pope discovered they shared a connection. Danielle’s mother and Dr. Pope’s father were high school classmates and knew each other well. Though a small detail given the gravity of the situation, Dr. Pope believes this connection helped build rapport and trust – forming a healing connection between patient and physician.
From her first introduction to University Hospitals, all the way to her most recent appointment, Danielle has been treated with the utmost kindness and care. Even at the height of COVID-19, Danielle’s inpatient experience was nothing less than exceptional. At the suggestion of her health care team, Danielle received the COVID-19 vaccine. As an immunocompromised patient, this eased concerns of exposure during her time in the hospital and set her up for success as she returned to work and day-to-day life.
At the end of her long and trying health care journey, Danielle found a caring and experienced team at UH. Now, when she needs care, she seeks guidance from her team in the UH Urology Institute, knowing that they will prioritize her comfort and peace of mind.