Carol’s Story: How a Bowel Repair Helped Her Get Back to Leading Travel Groups

As a cruise and vacation guide, Carol R. has escorted customers all over the world for 60 years. These excursions range from day trips to two-week-long getaways. She’s led more than 130 cruises and has taken travelers to countries all over the world.

“Probably my favorites are Hawaii — and I’m still planning on going back there in 2025 — and Australia and New Zealand,” says Carol, 88, of Williamsport, Pa. “Those are my favorites that I’d go back to in a heartbeat, but I have not been disappointed in anything.”

But for several years, Carol was leading her trips while dealing with a difficult medical condition.

Carol developed a fistula in her colon that affected her bowel movements. Her doctors at the time told her surgery wasn’t an option, so she lived with the uncomfortable situation for almost six years.

In 2023, Carol met for the first time with Daniel Schuler, DO, of UPMC Primary Care at Pine Street in Williamsport. Dr. Schuler researched Carol’s case and told her that surgery was possible after all.

Carol met with UPMC colorectal surgeon Amy Curry, DO. In February 2024, Dr. Curry performed a bowel resection and bladder repair to fix Carol’s problem.

Since her surgery, Carol is back to full health — and thankful to the entire team at UPMC for the care she received.

“Everybody says to me, ‘You’re such a miracle,'” Carol says. “And even myself, I lay here, and I think, ‘Did I have an operation?’ That’s the way I feel because I’m back to normal now.”

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A Painful Condition

In her early 80s, Carol developed diverticulosis. This condition occurs when small, bulging pouches called diverticula form in the digestive tract and push outward at weak spots.

Diverticulosis is common, especially in older adults. But the little bulges can become inflamed, leading to a condition called diverticulitis — which is what happened to Carol.

In rare cases, diverticulitis can attach to a nearby organ and form an abnormal connection called a fistula. In Carol’s case, she developed a colovesical fistula — a connection between the colon and bladder.

“A fistula is really a tunnel between two things that isn’t supposed to be there,” Dr. Curry says. “These are somewhat rare conditions, but not altogether too rare.”

The abnormal connection between the colon and bladder can cause fecal matter and bacteria from the colon to get into the bladder. It can lead to irritation, urinary tract infections, and even fecal leakage through the bladder.

“It burned like crazy,” Carol says.

She initially visited a doctor who told her that very few surgeons could solve her problem.

“He said the final decision on it would be that I probably would end up wearing a (colostomy) bag all the time,” she says. “He said, ‘Your life is going to change drastically. You will not be doing what you’re doing today.'”

“I told him, ‘Well, then, forget about it. I’m not giving up my lifestyle.'”

A New Answer

Carol lived with the challenges of her condition for six years. She continued to run her business and take groups on tours. She even underwent knee replacement surgery in the meantime.

She says she didn’t have pain, so she worked around the inconveniences when needing to use the restroom.

“It was just something you learn to cope with,” she says. “I just knew what I had to do, and that was it.”

Over time, however, Carol felt the condition getting worse.

In the summer of 2023, she met with Dr. Schuler, who had recently taken over her case. After looking over her records, he referred her to Dr. Curry for a possible solution.

Dr. Curry told Carol she could perform surgery to repair her condition. After taking some extra time to consider her options, Carol decided in December to move forward with surgery.

“[Dr. Curry] asked me if I really wanted this done, and I said, ‘Yes, definitely,'” Carol says.

A Surgical Solution

To make sure she could get surgery, Carol cleared her travel schedule for January, February, and March 2024.

Scheduling the surgery required coordination between Dr. Curry and urologist David Kurz, MD, who’d place ureteral stents during surgery. But they managed to get a surgical date lined up for Feb. 12.

Dr. Curry originally planned to do the procedure robotically. But after the surgery began, she discovered that the situation in Carol’s digestive tract was more complicated than expected. Because her condition had existed for six years, she had a lot of scar tissue and inflammation.

“It was actually a very difficult surgery,” Dr. Curry says.

So, Dr. Curry adapted — making a larger incision in Carol’s stomach and going with an open approach. She removed the diseased part of Carol’s colon and repaired Carol’s bladder. There was also enough healthy rectal tissue left to repair Carol’s colon and keep her from needing a colostomy bag.

Carol says she believes she was in the right hands with Dr. Curry.

“I have excellent faith. I’m a strong believer in God,” Carol says. “In fact, the last thing I saw in writing before I went into the surgery said, ‘God will hold your hand.’ And that’s all I needed to know.”

“I just think she’s the most fabulous person there is on this Earth,” she says of Dr. Curry.

After Carol’s discharge, workers from UPMC Home Healthcare helped her recover at home.

Carol had her staples and Foley bag removed on Feb. 26 and is now back to normal.

She’s even back to her normal travel schedule. She scheduled a group casino trip on March 20 — just over a month after her surgery.

“She’s just a joy to take care of because she’s just so complimentary,” Dr. Curry says. “Afterwards, she was just so happy. She really just has such a positive attitude, and that goes a long way with recovery.

“So, she was always happy to see you in the hospital, she was easy to talk to, and she followed all of our orders. And she was always just so thankful to have this done and to be feeling better. She’s a persistent lady, but easy to take care of.”

Carol has nothing but good things to say about her experience at UPMC — from Dr. Schuler to Dr. Curry to her entire care team.

“If it’s (on a scale of) one to 10, it’s a 10 with circles around it, and stars, and underscored, and everything,” Carol says. “It could not be any better. There’s not one thing I would change, period.”

About UPMC

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 800 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. We are dedicated to providing Life Changing Medicine to our communities.