FOR years Emeline Wilson battled with agonising endometriosis which left her in hospital on a number of occasions.
Unable to cope with the painful condition any longer, the 31-year-old made the brave decision to have both her ovaries removed.
The operation would usually lead to early menopause along with all the symptoms - hot flushes, fatigue and migraines.
But a state-of-the-art procedure, carried out just a handful of times so far in Birmingham, has cured her symptoms and seen her monthly cycle return.
Emeline, a marketing manager, who lives in Tamworth, Staffordshire, with husband Luke, 30, and daughter Luna, two, says the operation has been life-changing.
She said: "Older women can have this surgery to reverse the menopause. In my case, I was not given much choice.
I was 21 when I started suffering with endometriosis. I had long, painful periods and intense crampingEmeline Wilson
“I was 21 when I started suffering with endometriosis. I had long, painful periods and intense cramping.
"On a few occasions I was admitted to A&E after fainting with severe pain. But for a long time, I was fobbed off, with doctors telling me it was all in my head.”
Endometriosis is a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb starts to grow in other parts of the body, such as the ovaries and Fallopian tubes, and can cause infertility.
When she was 26, Emeline and Luke started trying for a baby but it resulted in a number of miscarriages.
They eventually decided to see Mr Yousri Afifi, Chief Medical Officer at ProFaM, the Protecting Fertility and Menopause clinic in Birmingham.
“We’d started trying for a baby but it wasn't working. Even when I did fall pregnant, I would miscarry. I suffered three miscarriages early on when I was around nine or ten weeks pregnant.
"I had an awful experience with one fertility specialist so I did my research and came across Mr Afifi online.
"I asked to be referred to him and I was 28 when I first met him.
“He performed several surgeries where he cut away some of the patches of endometriosis tissue."
I knew at this point that I didn’t want any more children and thought I might need a hysterectomyEmeline Wilson
Incredibly, this worked a year later she fell pregnant with Luna, now two.
She said: “What Mr Afifi did was life-changing for me. I’d never have been a mum otherwise.
"But a couple of months after giving birth, my symptoms returned and were worse than ever.
"I was in a lot of pain with cysts growing on both ovaries.
“I knew at this point that I didn’t want any more children and thought I might need a hysterectomy.
"Mr Afifi said one of the options was to remove my ovaries as they were in a bad condition. I was concerned about this bringing on early menopause.
“I was only 31 at the time and I didn’t want to be worrying about hot flushes at that age. That’s not something anyone would want.
“Mr Afifi told me about this procedure where you can take healthy tissue taken off your ovaries and grafted on to the side of your pelvis.
"He said if it worked, my body would create exactly the same hormones as before and it would prevent the menopause.”
Emeline decided to go ahead with the NHS-funded procedure, which was carried out at Birmingham Women and Children’s Hospital in November last year.
Her ovaries were removed and after being sent to a a laboratory, some of the healthy ovarian tissue was grafted on to the right side of her pelvis.
The operation hit the headlines earlier this month as in some cases, the tissue could be frozen and transplanted back in older women years later, reversing the menopause and helping to preserve fertility.
The procedure tricks the body into releasing hormones which delay the menopause.
Emeline said: "I was a little nervous at first. It’s quite a new surgery and I hadn’t heard very much about it.
"But I’m no stranger to surgery and I had faith in Mr Afifi. I felt I had nothing to lose.
“It was quite a lengthy procedure. The graft was not the only thing they did that day.
"Some of my organs such as the bowels and rectum were fused together because of the endometriosis and that had to be fixed too, so I was on the operating table for six hours.
"The graft alone wouldn’t have taken that long.”
But after just 24 hours, Emeline was allowed home - and thankfully she experienced no side effects.
"I was completely fine. For about three days I was taking it slow, but I felt well and returned to work after a month.
"I probably could have gone sooner but I didn’t want to take any risks.”
As her ovaries had been removed, for the first month, Emeline started to suffer all the symptoms of an early menopause.
Symptoms of endometriosis
Endometriosis is where cells like the ones in the lining of the womb (uterus) are found elsewhere in the body.
Each month, these cells react in the same way to those in the womb - building up and then breaking down and bleeding. Unlike the cells in the womb that leave the body as a period, this blood has no way to escape.
That can lead to infertility, fatigue, bowel and bladder problems, as well as really heavy, painful periods.
It affects one in ten women in the UK.
- Painful, heavy, or irregular periods
- Pain during or after sex
- Chronic pain
- Painful bowel movements
The cause of endometriosis is unknown and there is no definite cure.
According to Endometriosis UK, it takes over seven years on average for women to finally receive a diagnosis.
It's estimated that up to 50 per cent of infertile women has the condition.
Source: Endometriosis UK
Doctors said it would take around three months for the graft to take effect.
“I was suffering everything you would expect,” she said.
“Hot flushes, migraines, fatigue. It was quite a hard time. I had a two-year-old to look after and yet my body felt like someone in their fifties.
“The hot flushes were the worst. I’m always cold and yet in the middle of winter I just felt boiling hot.
I can’t have children any more but I knew that would be the deal. It’s the best operation I’ve ever hadEmeline Wilson
“But after about three months, the symptoms vanished. I was perfectly fine, as if nothing ever happened.
"It was a huge relief. I didn’t want to go through the menopause in my thirties.
“Even more surprising than that, I started bleeding again. I now have periods as normal, it comes every month, in the same way as any other healthy woman.
"It’s not painful as it was when I had the endometriosis.
“I can’t have children any more but I knew that would be the deal. It’s the best operation I’ve ever had.”
Mr Afifi said that many women who battle endometriosis have to remove their ovaries and uterus – leaving them infertile and battling early menopause.
“This operation is something really quite unique,” he says.
“It is an incredible way of improving quality of life for a large number of women for a long period of their lives.
"Of course, some people will be against it. Some women may not want to delay the menopause but the majority welcome such intervention.
"The point is, it’s up to each woman. There is a choice and it’s a choice that didn’t exist until now.
“There are women like Emeline having this procedure for clinical reasons as they lose their ovarian function at a young age.
"Then there is another group of patients who have no problems with their ovaries and would expect the menopause to happen naturally around the age of 50.
"They can choose to have some ovarian tissue taken out and this has no impact on their fertility or on the age at which they’d go through the menopause.
"If they then choose at a later date, this tissue can be used to extend their hormonal status by a significant duration.
“By delaying the menopause in any of these women, you are reducing the risk of long-term complications caused by the menopause.
"This might be things like cardiovascular disease, mental health or osteoporosis.”
Emeline expects that she will now go through the menopause as most women do, around the age of 50.
“It’s hard to know what will happen as this such a new procedure,” she says.
“But my understanding is that it will be pretty normal and I’ll experience the menopause later in life like any other healthy would woman do.
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"I’m not expecting my menopause to hit until I’m about 50.
"I can genuinely say Mr Afifi saved my life. The pain I'd experienced was horrendous and I was tired of fighting it. I also went through three miscarriages.
"I'm now 32 and thanks to this surgery I have a normal life and I'm a healthy and happy mum to my daughter."
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