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“I got liberated from a five-year struggle with my bladder”

Army Veteran John Lawton in a cowboy hat, blue dress shirt and necklace.
After years of struggling with an overactive bladder, John Lawton found a permanent solution with help from Montana VA Health Care System.

Discover how U.S. Army Veteran John Lawton overcame an overactive bladder with the help of a skilled doctor and the Joseph Medicine Crow VA Clinic.

An invisible battle 

Army Veteran John Lawton struggled with an unseen foe for half a decade.

"It dictated my life," said Lawton. "The constant need to run to the head was inconvenient and embarrassing.”

His foe: frequent and urgent urges to urinate, sometimes up to five times an hour.

“We treated my symptoms with medicine for two or three years, but my condition was not improving,” said Lawton.

Finding hope

During an appointment with his primary care doctor, Lawton asked for other treatment options and was referred to urology.

This referral connected him with Dr. Michael Hickman at the Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow VA Clinic. 

Dr. Hickman provided him with an option that gave him hope he could lead a life without the constant, inconvenient interruptions of an overactive bladder.

"That’s when Dr. Hickman told me about sacral neuromodulation and how it could help me," said Lawton. "He told me the procedure could help improve my quality of life by stopping the urges to urinate."

Hickman, a urologist and the son and grandson of Navy Veterans, brought his expertise to VA, driven by a personal mission to provide high-quality urologic care for Veterans in Montana.

Prior to Dr. Hickman’s hiring, Montana VA Health Care System did not offer sacral neuromodulation surgery to correct an overactive bladder.

"I came to Montana VA to serve those who served," said Hickman. "I came to VA to help Vets with issues such as pain when urinating, bladder issues like an overactive bladder, kidney stones and more.”

A life-changing treatment 

Now, armed with this new-found knowledge and a comrade-in-arms to help him, Lawton took a chance on what would be a life-changing treatment.

Sacral neuromodulation helps with chronic urinary retention and overactive bladder. Chronic urinary retention occurs when the bladder cannot be emptied fully, and overactive bladder occurs when there is a frequent and urgent need to urinate.

"We're re-setting a faulty signal between the brain and the bladder," said Hickman. "By implanting a small device under the skin above the buttocks, which delivers electrical pulses to the sacral nerves, the bladder functions properly." 

A new normal 

Post-surgery, Lawton's life has changed significantly.

"I got liberated from a five-year struggle with my bladder," said Lawton. "Dr. Hickman said he wanted to improve my quality of life. Let me tell you. He did."

With the frequent and urgent calls to urinate gone, Lawton focuses on other activities and spends more time with his wife of 41 years, three adult children, 18 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

"I'm able to play ball, fish and travel with my wife and our seven grandchildren who live with us, without having the sudden urges to urinate forcing me to stop,” said Lawton. 

Helping more Veterans 

Hickman said the impact of this procedure extends far beyond the immediate relief it offers.

"The treatment results will last the Vet's lifetime," said Hickman. "It's a long-term solution, takes an hour to complete and greatly improves the Vet's quality of life."

This permanent benefit makes sacral neuromodulation an excellent option for those with similar issues to Mr. Lawton.

Dr. Hickman is pleased to provide this brief, yet life-altering procedure to Montana Veterans because it echoes his and VA's commitment to innovative, life-changing health care for Veterans.

Get the help you earned

If you are experiencing similar health issues, please talk with your doctor. Remember that you need a referral from your primary care doctor to schedule a urology appointment. 

Please note that walk-in visits are not accepted. 

Visit the Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow VA Clinic for more information.

Jesus Flores is a writer and editor on the VISN 19 Creative Task Force and a Marine Corps Veteran

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