The gastrointestinal tract is a complex system, which can lead to a variety of health issues from straightforward ailments to very complicated diseases. The challenge of such a range led Dr. Kelly Garrett to specialize in colon and rectal surgery.
As an Associate Professor of Clinical Surgery at Weill Cornell Medicine and an Assistant Attending Surgeon at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, she sees patients with diverticulitis, colon and rectal cancer, inflammatory bowel diseases (including Crohn's disease and Ulcerative Colitis), and benign anorectal disorders (including hemorrhoids, fistulas, and fissures).
Dr. Garrett also specializes in pelvic floor disorders that affect the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, including rectal prolapse and fecal incontinence. About one-quarter of patients in the US experience some sort of pelvic floor disorder, but the stigma attached to these conditions often prevents patients from speaking to their doctors.
Patients often misperceive these disorders as only occurring in women, but men and children can also experience them. “These issues are more common than any chronic illness patients deal with on a day-to-day basis in the US,” she explains, “and patients should empower themselves with knowing the treatment options.”
Dr. Garrett’s strategy for battling misinformation and empowering patients? Educating her patients about their options, training future physicians to provide the highest-quality care, and advancing the technology and treatments available to all.
Educating her patients about GI pelvic floor disorders
“I believe an informed and involved patient ends up being a happier patient,” says Dr. Garrett. “To that end, I try to listen to my patients and afford them as much comfort with giving the information I need to successfully treat them.”
Many patients have never heard of pelvic floor disorders or may not believe that they can be treated. Unfortunately, many suffer silently for years before seeking help. Dr. Garrett asserts that the data paints a very different picture. “The message,” she says, “is that many people in this country suffer from this issue, and they are not alone.”
The first step for all patients suffering from fecal incontinence or rectal prolapse is to know that these conditions are not rare, and they can be treated. Next, Dr. Garrett encourages all patients to seek out a highly-trained specialist with experience treating these conditions. “I also suggest finding a center that specializes in pelvic floor disorders,” she asserts, “because the patient will have access to all the ancillary services needed for long-term success.”
Offering patients the most advanced treatment options
To offer their patients the best possible care, Dr. Garrett and the Weill Cornell team remain at the forefront of medical advancements—including offering patients sacral nerve stimulation.
In this advanced technique, a neurostimulator device is surgically implanted to deliver electrical impulses to the sacral nerve (in the lower back) to contract and strengthen the pelvic muscles. The treatment offers patients a minimally invasive, low-risk option to relieve fecal incontinence. It has a very high success rate; symptoms improve for 80 to 90 percent of patients and disappear completely for almost 50 percent of patients.
One of her patients, Maryjo Jureller, greatly admires Dr. Garrett, asserting that she changed her life after experiencing incontinence after childbirth. “The joy of having our child was, unfortunately, mixed with the depression from these complications,” Maryjo explains. “Leaving the house was a mental and physical challenge. I had two prior reconstructive surgeries, but the issues quickly reemerged after a short period of time. Needless to say, it was a very challenging time. I was in my mid-30s and experiencing these embarrassing issues that I had no control over.”
Maryjo was soon connected with Dr. Garrett and learned that she was a potential candidate for sacral nerve stimulation, which had recently become available in the US. “After undergoing this procedure, I now experience life with much less worry,” she says. “Dr. Garrett always worked with me in an honest, kind way. As you can imagine, this type of problem can be quite embarrassing, yet Dr. Garrett has a calming ease about her.”
“My hope,” continues Maryjo, “is that she continues to investigate and work with this new technology so as to give others the chance to experience the same results.”
Gastrointestinal medicine particularly lends itself to innovation, says Dr. Garrett, “colon and rectal surgery has always been on the surgical cutting edge.” Whether it’s new laparoscopic technologies or less invasive endoscopic management of disorders, patients’ options for treatment are constantly improving.
The latest development in the field of colorectal surgery is the use of robotics. Dr. Garrett has already begun incorporating this new element into her repertoire. “I have recently embarked on the use of a robotic platform in colon and rectal surgery and believe this may eventually become a permanent tool in our field.”
Dr. Garrett is passionate about helping patients and future physicians better understand gastrointestinal (GI) disorders and treatments, including GI-related pelvic floor disorders. She embraces her role at the forefront of the field, explaining, “Colon and rectal surgery is challenging, lends itself to innovation, and has proven professionally rewarding for me.”
Read more about Colon and Rectal Surgery at Weill Cornell Medicine to learn about the conditions we treat and services we offer, including sacral nerve stimulation for fecal incontinence.