Mum who couldn’t control her bladder her whole life is finally cured by a battery-powered implant – leading pals to dub her ‘The Bionic Woman’

·7-min read

A mum who spent her whole life unable to control her bladder and often found herself having to dash home without warning after wetting herself in public has been cured after having an implant fitted into the base of her spine.

Wendy Gough, 47, of Romford, East London, now charges herself up once a week through the rechargeable battery located at the top of her buttocks and the device – which has led her friends to nickname her The Bionic Woman – helps her brain send clear messages to her bladder.

A personal assistant, she has always had overactive bladder – where a person regularly gets a sudden and compelling need or desire to pass urine.

Wendy says the procedure has been life changing for her. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Wendy says the procedure has been life changing for her. (Collect/PA Real Life)

Wendy, who lives with her husband Chris, 52, a school cleaner, and their daughter, Aimee, 13, said: “It’s basically been an issue for me all of my life. It took my parents a long time to get me out of nappies and potty trained.

“I was out of nappies at two years old but I would still wet myself.

“I had reoccurring UTIs and very little control over my bladder.”

According to the NHS, the sensation of needing to pass urine caused by an overactive bladder “is difficult to put off and this can happen at any time during the day or night, often without any warning”.

Wendy said: “As a child, I had a note in my bag from my parents so I could be excused at school to go to the toilet.

“As I got older, I wore sanitary pads most days in case I leaked.”

The implant is charged up once a week. (Collect/PA Real Life)
The implant is charged up once a week. (Collect/PA Real Life)

But Wendy’s parents were told there was nothing wrong with their little girl and that she would grow out of it.

She said: “I had lot of interventions as a child, but they came with very little help or solution.

“I was put on antibiotics at eight years old for six months but doctors changed the medication every two weeks, trying to find one that would clear up the reoccurring UTIs.”

She added: “It didn’t help my bladder but also meant that when I got ill, antibiotics had no effect because my body had built up a tolerance to them.”

Wendy recalls how it was only as she hit her early 20s the issue became a growing concern for her.

She said: “As a child, these things don’t tend to bother you but as I got older and wanted to start going out and having fun with friends, it really affected me.”

Wendy says her husband Chris has always been very understanding, even making excuses for her when she has to leave abruptly. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Wendy says her husband Chris has always been very understanding, even making excuses for her when she has to leave abruptly. (Collect/PA Real Life)

She added: “It was then that I really started seeking answers from the doctor but they were stumped.”

But then came a major surprise.

Wendy said: “In my thirties, I fell pregnant and miraculously, my symptoms disappeared.”

She added: “This new ‘dryness’ continued for around 18 months after the birth of Aimee in July, 2008, and gave me such an insight into what life could be like.

“But, around the same time, perhaps ironically, that we started potty training Aimee, my symptoms returned.”

With the problem returning, Wendy was finally referred to a specialist and in 2015 was diagnosed with Overactive Bladder Syndrome.

Wendy has suffered from an overactive bladder all of her life. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Wendy has suffered from an overactive bladder all of her life. (Collect/PA Real Life)

Wendy said: “Over the years, doctors had looked for another explanation but after ruling everything else out, it was clear that I just had an overactive bladder.”

With her diagnosis, she tried various treatments including Botox injections into the bladder wall and medications, but they had no effect.

Wendy said: “My consultant urologist finally referred me to Queen Square in London, which is the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery.”

She added: “Once investigations into my condition had been completed, it was suggested that I may be ideal, and an eligible patient, for sacral neuromodulation. It was the first I’d heard of the treatment, but I trusted my consultant and by this stage I was prepared to give anything a try.

“Looking back, it was from this point that my life, or rather, the quality of my life, began to change. I was asked to be part of a patient trial, managed by the international medical device company Axonics.”

Sacral neuromodulation is a procedure that meant, in 2016, Wendy had a small neurostimulator, about the size of a £2 coin, implanted just beneath the skin in her upper buttock as part of a European-wide patient trial into a pioneering therapy for overactive bladder.

Wendy’s parents were told that their little girl would grow out of wetting herself. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Wendy’s parents were told that their little girl would grow out of wetting herself. (Collect/PA Real Life)

A thin lead was also implanted in the lower back and connected to the device, with the battery lasting approximately 15 years.

The implant aims to help restore normal communication between the brain and the bladder.

Wendy said: “It made an overnight difference to my life – it’s given me my life back.”

She added: “I went home later that same day as the procedure and almost immediately, it felt as though this was the first day of the rest of my life. A life without leaks.

“One of the first things I did was buy myself a pair of beige trousers, something I’d never dared to wear before. I was always dressed in black, navy or dark colours, just in case.”

Now, Wendy is able to leave her home without worry of suffering any bladder leakage.

While she was pregnant, Wendy’s symptoms disappeared. (Collect/PA Real Life)
While she was pregnant, Wendy’s symptoms disappeared. (Collect/PA Real Life)

She said: “I’m really lucky in that I meant my husband when I was 17 and he has always been so understanding of my condition, even making excuses for me when I have to leave somewhere abruptly.

“But having to always remember to bring spare knickers and trousers out with me or having the embarrassment of leaking while I’m out meant I held back on doing a lot of fun things.

“We like to travel up to the Lake District which normally takes us about four and half hours from our house but before the procedure, I would be constantly having to stop to go to toilet.”

She added: “Now though, I can drive the entire route without even stopping once. That’s a major thing for me.”

Now, Wendy hopes to break the taboo by speaking out about her overactive bladder.

She said: “It’s a shame that it’s such a taboo – people will often not admit that bladder control is something they struggle with.”

Wendy first met her husband Chris when she was 17. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Wendy first met her husband Chris when she was 17. (Collect/PA Real Life)

She added: “I want people to know that they’re not alone in their struggle and that there is specialised treatment out there.”

Since the implant was fitted, Wendy now charges herself up once a week.

She said: “Recharging the battery is now the only effect that my overactive bladder has on my life.”

She added: “There’s a small strip at the end of my buttocks which is where the battery can be charged.

“I basically just plug myself in and sit quite still for around 40 minutes while it charges.

“It’s not invasive and I do that every Sunday evening just to make sure I never run out of battery.”

She added: “We laugh about it, even my friends now call me The Bionic Woman!

“I feel so grateful for this procedure, it’s truly given me a new outlook on life.”

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