Austin doctor leads nation in breakthrough treatment for fibroids

Dr. Devin Garza was the first surgeon in the U.S. to pilot the use of the Acessa Procedure with the robotic platform as a combination therapy to treat fibroids
Dr. Devin Garza was the first surgeon in the U.S. to pilot the use of the Acessa Procedure with the robotic platform as a combination therapy to treat fibroids. (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — For years Bette Whitney wondered why it felt like her body was turning against her. The elementary school teacher was in constant pain, suffering from heavy periods and bloating. She says it felt like there was a constant weight inside of her.

“Part of me, I just really didn’t want to know,” she remembers. “It’s not a good feeling as a woman thinking there are parts of you that don’t work the way you want them to work. Avoiding it is not going to make it go away.”

Whitney had fibroids, which are benign, non-cancerous tumors in a woman’s uterus. Up to 3 in 4 women will suffer from them in their reproductive years. While some women do not experience symptoms, others like Whitney suffer through debilitating pain. “It starts to feel a little different down there, like I felt heavy and bloated. But emotionally-wise I was just kind of wondering, for me as a woman my age, middle-age, what was going on?” asked Whitney.

One solution for relieving symptoms of painful fibroids is a hysterectomy, the removal of the uterus.

Dr. Devin Garza, with the Texas Institute for Robotic Surgery at St. David’s North Austin Medical Center, says it’s an option many woman don’t want. “Some women, regardless of childbearing, don’t want to have a hysterectomy,” he says.

Dr. Garza is one of few surgeons trained on the Acessa System, a less invasive procedure that uses radiofrequency energy to shrink the tumors. But he’s the first in the nation to use it on the robotic platform, allowing more precision and ease to remove fibroids.

St. David’s North is the first in the nation to offer it.

The Acessa procedure utilizes a technology called radiofrequency ablation, and treats each fibroid by applying energy through a small needle array. The surrounding normal uterine tissue is not damaged or otherwise affected. Over time, the treated fibroid tissue shrinks and may become completely reabsorbed by the body.
The Acessa procedure utilizes a technology called radiofrequency ablation, and treats each fibroid by applying energy through a small needle array. The surrounding normal uterine tissue is not damaged or otherwise affected. Over time, the treated fibroid tissue shrinks and may become completely reabsorbed by the body.

“It allows for less operative time, less blood loss and even though it’s surgery, it’s precise trauma to the uterus,” said Dr. Garza. “And if we can avoid more trauma to the uterus and shrink those fibroids and get the clinical results where a woman feels better, that’s where everybody wins.”

Acessa is performed under general anesthesia, and only two very small (approximately one-quarter inch) abdominal incisions are needed during the procedure. There is no cutting, suturing or removal of the uterus itself.

It’s estimated that up to one half of the 600,000 hysterectomies performed in the U.S. each year are for the treatment of symptoms that are secondary to fibroids. Dr. Garza hopes the advanced technology gives more women options when making a decision.

“Ultimately [it’s] giving a woman the option not to have a hysterectomy, with the outcome which is a high chance of being happy that they don’t have the symptoms that those fibroids were producing. And being able to do that in a way that they can recover within one or two weeks and get back to life.”

Whitney says she was back on her feet within a few days.

“In a weird way I actually don’t look younger, but I feel younger, I feel like I have more energy. I don’t feel like I carry that feeling of a constant little weight down there. I sleep better at nighttime.”

Dr. Garza says women suffering from very large fibroids are often good candidates for the procedure. If you have certain symptoms, you may suffer from fibroids and should check with a doctor.