IWK to open Atlantic Canada's first endometriosis clinic

·4 min read
From left to right: Bethany Lezama, physiotherapist; Dr. Elizabeth Randle, gynecologist; Dr. Allana Munro, anesthesiologist; Leah Pink, nurse practitioner.  (Ryan Wilson, IWK - image credit)
From left to right: Bethany Lezama, physiotherapist; Dr. Elizabeth Randle, gynecologist; Dr. Allana Munro, anesthesiologist; Leah Pink, nurse practitioner. (Ryan Wilson, IWK - image credit)

The IWK Health Centre in Halifax is opening Atlantic Canada's first clinic dedicated to endometriosis and chronic pelvic pain, a sometimes debilitating condition that affects an estimated 15 per cent of people who were assigned female at birth and are at a reproductive age.

Dr. Elizabeth Randle, who has been working to establish the clinic for several years, said watching the project come to fruition has been very exciting.

"I know anecdotally from my own patient population it's something that they've been looking for, for some time," she said.

Endometriosis is a painful condition when cells similar to the lining of the uterus grow outside the uterus. The condition, which is often misunderstood and misdiagnosed, sometimes requires surgery, but even surgery does not always stop the pain the patient experiences.

It's hoped the clinic will open later this year with a core team of Randle as a gynecologist, as well as an anesthesiologist, a nurse practitioner, and a physiotherapist. The clinic leaders also hope to add a counsellor and other staff with training in treating endometriosis and pelvic pain.

Patient reaction

"It took me a while to believe it, I couldn't believe it," said Brenna Shannon, who lives in Dartmouth and was diagnosed with endometriosis in 2006.

"I knew this was in the works, but I just didn't expect it to become so real ... I was at a loss for words. I cried."

Shannon says she's heard countless stories of people who have fallen through gaps while attempting to navigate the health-care system for endometriosis. It's been particularly bad in the last year due to COVID-19, which has added additional complications or delays into health care.
Shannon says she's heard countless stories of people who have fallen through gaps while attempting to navigate the health-care system for endometriosis. It's been particularly bad in the last year due to COVID-19, which has added additional complications or delays into health care.(Submitted by Brenna Shannon)

She quickly shared the news with friends who also have endometriosis.

"They were crying, and just so happy, and just thinking about there's hope," she said. "Because this is at a time when it's so hard to find hope for people who have endometriosis, particularly in this area."

A life-altering condition

Together with anesthesiologist Dr. Allana Munro, Randle reviewed pelvic pain referrals to the gynecology department at the IWK and discovered there were 815 referrals over the last year.

Pink says endometriosis can have a serious effect on people's lives.
Pink says endometriosis can have a serious effect on people's lives.(Submitted by Leah Pink)

It's yet to be determined exactly how many patients the clinic will be able to take, but Randle said she believes it will likely serve people who are coming from outside the province in addition to a primarily Nova Scotian patient group.

"Given the number of patients that we identified in that fairly limited review, I can only anticipate that the numbers would be similar in other centres as well," she said.

Randle said getting the core team of staff in place is "a big step forward" in making the clinic a reality.

Nurse practitioner Leah Pink recently moved to Nova Scotia from Ontario to take up her position with the new clinic. She said people diagnosed with endometriosis often do not have a good experience trying to get treatment.

"They're so used to being kind of tossed around from provider to provider. And in this kind of a multidisciplinary approach, the idea is that we're going to have a number of services in one place so that there's going to be less of that," she said.

Pink is looking forward to getting the clinic started as endometriosis has a severe effect on people's lives.

"In general with chronic pain, it is life-altering to the extreme," she said. "It's just interfering with all aspects of your life."

Recognizing the condition

Shannon said she has lost out on many experiences in life due to chronic pain, including sharing special moments with her daughter, which is why news of the clinic is so meaningful to her.

"I've had times where she's wanted to go for a bike ride and I'm not able to take her for a bike ride because I'm in too much pain. And that's heartbreaking," said Shannon.

She's particularly pleased to see physiotherapy as part of the clinic since it can be difficult to access pelvic floor physio treatment.

"Even just having a clinic that focuses on endometriosis and pelvic pain helps to legitimize our experience and our suffering that we go through," she said.

"Because it's something that's not really legitimized, that people don't know about."

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