Endometriosis: one woman’s painful journey to pregnancy

Like most women training for a marathon, Keli Lawson didn’t want to let her period stop her from running. But endometriosis forced Lawson to stop hitting the pavement, and working altogether, due to the intense pain caused by the disease.

Lawson was diagnosed with endometriosis when she started getting her periods at age 13. Endometriosis occurs when tissue grows outside of the uterus on other organs or structures in the body. These growths often cause pain in the abdomen and back, particularly during menstrual periods. For Lawson, her periods became increasingly painful, and she eventually had a cyst the size of a grapefruit removed from an ovary when she was 21.

After the cyst was removed, Lawson started taking birth control to alleviate most of the pain and tissue growth for several years. She focused on her career and started running competitively. At 31, Lawson was ready to start a family and stopped taking birth control pills.

Keli Lawson

Keli Lawson

“The severe pain returned almost immediately,” she says. “I was never really pain-free before, but the pain was manageable. I felt like I had to choose between having a baby and not being in pain.”

She had another surgery to remove a small cyst and was told she could start trying again to get pregnant. After a few months of relief, the pain came back with a vengeance in January 2013.

Waking up to crippling pain one day, Lawson says she couldn’t even stand up long enough to take a shower, much less go to work. With the help of prescription pain pills, she says it was bearable to get through a day of lying in bed.

Lawson had recently moved to O’Fallon, Ill., and started looking for a physician nearby. She reached out to Barnes-Jewish Hospital’s referral line for a recommendation and chose Scott Biest, MD, Washington University OB/GYN at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

Dr. Biest found a large amount of scar tissue on a ligament supporting Lawson’s cervix and gave her three options: go back to taking birth control pills, stay on the pain medications, or have another surgery.

“I decided to tough it out, and I lasted through October 2013,” Lawson says. “I had good days and bad days, but eventually the pain and endometriosis started affecting everyday things like going to the bathroom, so I scheduled the surgery.”

Dr. Biest performed a laparoscopic removal of scar tissue from her utero-sacral ligament, a common site for endometriosis. He also removed her left ovary and fallopian tube, as a result of the large endometrioma and scarring.

“Keli had stage-four endometriosis, which is the most severe form of the disease,” Dr. Biest says. “So we normalized her anatomy, which was an important step for her to try to get pregnant. Many women who suffer from endometriosis also struggle with infertility.”

Lawson started feeling better after surgery and returned to training for a marathon she plans to run in April.

“As soon as I felt well enough, I started running again. We thought we’d have to do in-vitro fertilization eventually if we wanted to get pregnant, so I didn’t worry about it much” Lawson says. “But on Valentine’s Day, we were shocked to find out I’m pregnant.”

Lawson recently had an ultrasound to make sure she does not have a tubal pregnancy and heard the baby’s heartbeat for the first time. She also found out she is not a high-risk pregnancy and, as long as she feels up to it, she can continue to train for the marathon in April.

“Everything looks perfect right now,” she says. “I’m so happy we were able to get pregnant on our own and I’m excited to take this next step in our lives.”

March is National Endometriosis Awareness Month. If you know someone who might be suffering from endometriosis, visit BarnesJewish.org for a referral to an endometriosis specialist.

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Category: Women & Infants

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Barnes-Jewish Hospital at Washington University Medical Center is the largest hospital in Missouri and the largest private employer in the St. Louis region. An affiliated teaching hospital of Washington University School of Medicine, Barnes-Jewish Hospital has a 1,800 member medical staff with many who are recognized as "Best Doctors in America." They are supported by residents, interns and fellows, in addition to nurses, technicians and other health-care professionals.

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