Doctors in the Czech Republic recently announced the successful outcome of a rare vaginal reconstruction surgery on a female scleroderma patient who suffered such severe complications of the condition that she was no longer able to enjoy sex or undergo a gynecological exam. The medical team expects to publish a paper documenting their efforts, thought to be a first-of-kind procedure.
Scleroderma is a disease of the body’s connective tissue that supports the skin and internal organs. The disease causes the affected tissue to become hard and thick. When affected, the skin becomes tight and hard. In the case of the Czech patient, the skin around the vaginal opening had constricted to such a degree penetration was impossible. Decreased lubrication also hindered sexual pleasure.
Dr. Vladimir Kalis led the medical team that performed the Mesh Augmented Vaginal Reconstruction at University Hospital in Plzen, where Kalis heads up the gynecological-obstetrical clinic. The research team took inspiration from similar procedures to correct pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence by using a graft of pig tissue to form a mesh upon which healthy human tissue eventually grows and overcomes tissue weakness.
Pig tissue is so similar genetically to human tissue that it is frequently used throughout the body in dermatological and cardiological procedures. In laboratory settings, scientists have been able to grow human leg muscles from implants of pig bladder tissue.
Kalis said many female scleroderma patients suffer similar sexual discomforts as his patient but most are too timid to mention it to their doctors. His patient began experiencing sexual difficulties two years prior to reconstruction; various medications had failed to bring relief.
The reconstruction surgery began with an incision at the vaginal opening to enlarge it. The 1-millimeter-thick mesh, made from pig intestine, was attached to the walls of the vagina to widen it. Over time, human tissue will grow over the pig tissue, which will be absorbed by the body.
The procedure lasted about one hour and the patient remained hospitalized for five days.
Kalis said, “The patient is very happy now. The gynecological examinations are not painful anymore.” She has been advised to abstain from sexual intercourse for two years so her body can fully recover but “basically, she feels like a woman again,” according to Kalis.
The Czech medical team plans to publish the story of their innovative surgery in coming months. The hospital staff has been unable to find any published evidence of similar procedures although they don’t discount the possibility similar procedures have been performed but “it seems we are the first to publish the results of such a surgery in a professional medical publication,” according to hospital spokesperson Gabriela Levorova.
- “What Is Scleroderma? Fast Facts: An Easy-to-Read Series of Publications for the Public.” National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. National Institutes of Health. Aug. 2010. Web. 8 Mar. 2015.
- “Women’s Health: Vaginoplasty and Labiaplasty.” WebMD. WebMD, LLC. n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2015.