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Fix for Fecal Incontinence: September 9, 2013

A colorectal cancer survivor, Steve Barnett makes beautiful music on his handcrafted harps.

He preferred to stay quiet about a private health condition. Surgery to remove his rectum and part of his colon left him with a loss of control.

“It difficult for me to do my work or even go to the garage and work on a harp because as soon as I’d turn one of the machines on, I’d have to shut it off and go to the restroom,” says Barnett.

“In the U.S. alone there’s 18 million people with fecal incontinence,” says Dr. Janette Gaw, colorectal surgeon on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.

Similar to bladder incontinence, people are unable to manage their bowels. Barnett got no relief from diet and medication.

“Dr. Gaw came to me and said ‘you know I have a surprise for you, I have something I think you’ll be interested in’,” says Barnett.

“If people fail conservative measures the FDA has recently approved something called InterStim; it's a sacral nerve stimulator. It’s been used for urinary incontinence for many years now. I describe it as a pacemaker for the pelvis,” says Dr. Gaw.

Implanted under the skin near the buttocks following a trial period, the stimulator sends mild electrical impulses to the nerves, which influence the bladder, sphincter and pelvic floor.

“The way to kind of describe it is re-teaching of the pelvis of sensing and holding,” says Dr. Gaw.

Patients with incontinence often find themselves on a short rope, tied to the bathroom and in many cases afraid to leave home for fear of the unexpected.

“People are isolated and they don’t go socialize, they don’t dinners with friends, because it’s embarrassing,” says Dr. Gaw.

The stimulator helped restore harmony in Barnett’s life.

“Now I can go out and not worry,” says Barnett.