Enlarged Prostate Patient Story

Laser Surgery at Aurora Health Care Relieves Pressure of Prostate Problems

Brian suffered from an enlarged prostate, which caused issues with urinary incontinence

Brian Wachowiak can tell you where to find the best rest stops in Wisconsin.

And, no, he’s not a truck driver.

Living with prostate issues for 10 years, Brian could only drive so far (about 30 miles) and so long (about 40 minutes) before he needed a restroom.

While traveling to Indiana for a wedding, he made an urgent stop at a fast food restaurant.  On his way back to the freeway, he made a wrong turn – and had to drive 10 miles in the opposite direction before he could turn around.  By the time he got back to where he started, he needed the restroom again. Badly.

“It sounds comical,” said Brian, “but it wasn’t.  I was in a very uncomfortable state after just 20 minutes. The whole situation frustrated me to no end. I’m a patient guy, but my patience had finally run out.”

That’s when he decided to seek care.

No Time For Interruptions

Did you know?

If left untreated, an enlarged prostate can cause urinary tract infections, formation of bladder stones, and even kidney failure.

Twenty years ago, Brian retired at the top of his fire-fighting career. For decades, he served the community in three roles: as Milwaukee Fire Department battalion chief, fire science teacher at MATC and private fire investigator.  By 1993, he fought over 15,000 fires.

“I was used to working 96 hours a week between three jobs,” he said, “and I kept up a very busy pace during my retirement. Being slowed down was a big problem.”

By January 2012, Brian was waking up several times a night to use the bathroom. He was rushing to the bathroom with urgency – only to find himself waiting. When he could urinate, the stream was slow and intermittent, and he wasn’t fully emptying his bladder, which started the vicious cycle all over again.

Although not painful, this was very frustrating.

“Men have a way of covering things up. When you reach your threshold, you must decide to take action, and be ready to talk openly and freely with your doctor.”

Brian met Brett Laven, MD, urologist at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center, who diagnosed these symptoms as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), or enlarged prostate. Based on current statistics, one of every two men is projected to develop BPH between the ages of 45 and 75. If left untreated, BPH can cause kidney failure.

After reviewing his surgical and non-surgical options with Dr. Laven, Brian decided to try medication first. For six months, he took a combination of drugs (Flomax and Avodart) designed to relieve his symptoms.

“We didn’t want to rush surgery,” said Dr. Laven. “We needed to give the medication time to work. After all, what would you do if this was your dad? You’d want what was best for them.”

By July, Brian’s condition had improved – but not as much as he’d hoped.

Taking the Next Step

Brett Laven, MD, discusses Brian's condition, as well as general urinary incontinence in men.

Dr. Laven presented all of Brian's options, including continuing medications, an office-based microwave procedure, TURP procedure, or laser prostatectomy.

Brian preferred laser prostatectomy.  This minimally invasive procedure uses focused laser energy to remove excess tissue from the prostate, unblocking the path from the bladder and promoting a healthy urine flow.  As opposed to traditional surgery (transurethral resection of the prostate, or TURP), laser surgery offers an outpatient procedure with less bleeding and shorter catheterization. Laser surgery is also an option for patients taking blood thinners, such as Plavix or Warfarin, who are not typically eligible for TURP surgery.

“Doctors should present all the options, but ultimately, the patient makes the decision,” said Dr. Laven. “How bothered do you feel right now? If you had to live the rest of your life with your condition, how would you feel? Many prostate medications can lose their effectiveness over time. Is a 45-60 minute outpatient procedure worthwhile, if it saves you 30 years of medication side effects and costs? Only you know the answers.”

After several back surgeries, Brian knew the direct questions to ask. Dr. Laven’s answers were just as direct – and satisfying.  “He showed me a video that was simple and straightforward,” said Brian. “I didn’t need a second opinion. I was certain he would do the right thing for me.”

“I knew where I was at in my life,” said Brian. “I knew I would soon be unable to go more than 30-40 minutes without wearing an adult diaper.  That was not an option.”

On August 27, 2012, Brian went into day surgery. With several choices available, Dr. Laven chose the Thulium laser based on its consistent, positive results.  Rather than simply dissolving tissue, the Thulium laser extracts tissue that can be analyzed for pathology.

Brian walked out 2-1/2 hours later with only minimal discomfort. He took over-the-counter pain medication while relaxing comfortably at home.

“I knew right away that something worked. Within 24 hours of surgery, I already had a dramatic change in output. The catheter was removed on the second day. The lab tests showed no sign of cancer. And I was back in the game.”

Going “Bionic”

Today, Brian no longer has to worry about constant rest stops when he travels.

“Long airline flights had been torture in the past for me,” said Brian, recalling a trip to Bora Bora two years ago. “Now, travel is an absolute pleasure.”

Since his laser surgery six months ago, Brian has also gone “bionic” with cataract surgery and knee replacement.

“We think of what we heard, growing up, about surgeries. We need to let those horror stories go. Medical technology has come so far, so fast, and yet people are still basing their decisions on what they heard 20, 30 years ago.”

“Seeing a surgeon does not mean you’re going to need surgery,” said Dr. Laven. “It’s just an opportunity to talk about your symptoms and come up with a plan.  It’s a conversation.”

“Dr. Laven was a godsend,” said Brian. “He and his surgical team were just on top of everything. I can’t recommend them highly enough.”

“My only side effect was happiness.”

Find a urology specialist in Wisconsin or Northern Illinois who specializes in prostate issues.