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Like many women, Allison Powers grew up thinking that painful periods were a rite of passage, a burden to be silently endured. The 35-year-old from Evanston suffered debilitating monthly pain for years before fertility challenges finally prompted her to reach out for medical help.
An early miscarriage and subsequent difficulty getting pregnant led Powers to a fertility specialist at another institution, where she and her husband were told everything was normal. Dissatisfied with that response, Powers’ expertise as an attorney kicked in. She started asking more questions and doing her own research.
Through this journey, she found NorthShore’s Center for Pelvic Health and Frank Tu, MD, MPH. An expert in gynecologic pain and minimally invasive surgery, Dr. Tu carefully listened to her history and performed a detailed physical exam. Based on the initial evaluation, he strongly suspected that Powers had undiagnosed endometriosis. With this condition, tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus grows outside the uterus. This can irritate other organs, causing pain. Dr. Tu recommended minimally invasive surgery.
“Long-standing painful periods are not normal, despite what many people may think or have heard from some clinicians,” explained Dr. Tu, who holds an academic appointment at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. Dr. Tu also is leading a National Institutes of Health-funded research study called CRAMPP, to better understand why different types of pelvic pain show up in some women with painful periods.
Powers moved forward with the surgery. One of the first things she recalled hearing after the procedure was that Dr. Tu had indeed found and removed areas of deeply invasive endometriosis from multiple areas of her pelvis. She was overwhelmed with emotion, thinking back to her years of struggle with pelvic pain.
Powers recovered from the minimally invasive procedure quickly. Two weeks later, Dr. Tu advised her it was safe to try and conceive. “I was pregnant the next month and I almost couldn’t believe it,” she said.
Not all women who undergo laparoscopy for endometriosis are able to get pregnant following the procedure. But for Powers, condition resulted in both long-overdue pain relief and the joy of motherhood.
“After this long journey, my husband and I were both in disbelief,” recalled Powers. “We didn’t want to get our hopes up too soon.” Yet in June 2015, their daughter Sydney was born at NorthShore Evanston Hospital following a healthy pregnancy and delivery. “I’ve really enjoyed all the care and attention I’ve received at NorthShore from Dr. Tu and his team, and am grateful to everyone who helped through my pregnancy and Sydney’s birth,” noted Powers, who decided to share her story as a way to provide help and hope to other women.
“Don’t wait until you’re doubled over in pain for years before you seek help,” she said. “And never assume pain is normal without going to see a doctor.”