Breaking through the taboo: Dr. Briana Walton helps women with medical problems below the belly button
"Capital (Annapolis, MD)"
Sept. 22--Dressed stylishly and accenting her outfit with an eye-catching, chunky turquoise bead necklace, Briana Walton could be a retail executive or a boutique owner. But, those two letters after her name -- M.D. -- signify she chose a different path.
"I always knew I wanted to do something with my hands. My dad encouraged me to be a professional. I liked learning about the sciences, anatomy and cutting things open," explained Walton.
The doctor is the director of Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery at Anne Arundel Medical Center. With AAMC since 2008, the 43-year-old has offices in AAMC's Clatanoff Pavilion in Annapolis and at AAMC's brand new center in Odenton.
During her undergraduate years at Prairie View A&M in Texas, and later while seeking her medical degree from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, the young woman realized she wanted to pursue a surgical specialty. She considered geriatrics and urology. Nearing her third year of medical training in obstetrics and gynecology, Walton was offered the opportunity to go into urogynecology, a novel and innovative field.
She leapt at the opportunity when invited to be the first fellow in a brand-new three-year fellowship program in the division of urogynecology and pelvic reconstructive surgery at Harvard Medical School at Mount Auburn Hospital.
After Harvard, and before she was recruited by AAMC, Walton was director of benign gynecology at Washington Hospital.
"Urogynecology is a nice marriage of all the areas -- genital and the urinary and rectal tracts," she said. "We can take care of the whole package: incontinence, prolapse, fibroids, fecal or bowel dysfunction and recurrent infections. Pelvic pain touches on a lot of different areas."
Walton is the co-star, with vascular surgeon Dr. John Martin, of AAMC-TV's down-to-earth, straight-talking talk show, "docsTALK." The duo has been taping the show segments in front of live audiences for two years.
Topics, delivered in a conversational back-and-forth with guests, have included weight gain issues, guy problems, knee and hip replacement surgery, spine alignment, breast cancer, heart disease and acid reflux. After each taping, the doctors have break-out sessions with the audience.
Dr. Martin said: "Briana has tackled a very challenging field of medicine and, using her unique blend of professionalism, humor and compassion, she restores the health and dignity of her patients."
Her efforts locally and overseas inspire all of us to follow her example."
Get a dose of the docs at www.aahs.org/docstalk. Or, attend the next taping at 6 p.m. Oct. 24 in the Dordan Institute Conference Center.
Appearing on camera, Walton said "is outside my comfort zone, but it's important. I get a lot of positive feedback from my patients. We do this at AAMC because people find it informative and helpful. It's a way to relay medical information in a fun way."
The majority of Walton's patients are older than 55. She observed their problems may have started after having babies, followed by menopause. "With time, there's an increase in problems. But, normally women wait seven to 10 years before they come in for a visit."
This statistic frustrates her.
She noted: "Women are the center of the household and drive health care for their families. Yet they often ignore their own health care. They'll dismiss pelvic pain or problems as a symptom of aging. 'It's not that bad,' they'll say. 'It's something I can deal with.'"
"Don't ignore the problems. There are solutions," she urged. "Our quality of life is important, especially as we get older."
She predicts the pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery department at AAMC and other hospitals will become busier as Baby Boomers age.
Walton realizes some women are uncomfortable discussing problems below the belly button.
The doctor and her colleagues in the department "try to look at all areas when a woman comes in with a problem. We work in conjunction with a pelvic floor physical therapist. We help manage people from a conservative viewpoint who don't want surgery or cannot have it now. Teachers schedule surgery in June -- it's the only time they can do it."
"We try to help women to break free from the image that it is taboo territory," she said. "If you have a spasm in your shoulder, you rub it, put heat on it. If you have the same problem in your pelvic area, you might need to use a vibrator or a dilator."
Though there is still some reticence on the part of women over 60, she's noticed "people are getting more comfortable with the V-word and talking about it."
"She's wonderful and so easy to talk to. She never seems rushed," commented one of Walton's patients. "She's a fabulous doctor and is so understanding."
Walton has been married for 20 years to her college sweetheart, Nkai Walton of Dallas, Texas, an event and audio-visual production technician for AAMC.
"He was a football player and I was a band geek at my undergraduate college in Texas," said Walton. Her husband has accompanied her to every fellowship and job.
The two are pet-parents of Chloe the poodle, "who is spoiled," Walton admitted.
The couple -- and Chloe -- share their Gambrills home with Walton's mother, Jean Robinson, and an aunt, Penny Rowe.
When Walton and her husband want to relax, they either pack their bags and travel -- or they drive a few miles to the Wheels Skating Center in Odenton for an evening of roller skating to rock music.
Two weeks each April for the past six years, Walton has provided her services to impoverished women half a world away.
As a volunteer for the International Organization for Women and Development, Inc., she travels to Niger or Rwanda to work in local clinics. According to its website, www.IOWD.org, the organization's mission is to provide free treatment and care to patients suffering from obstetric fistulae, gynecologic and pelvic floor disorders.
Doctors' skill sets in Africa are limited, Walton said. "We partner with these doctors to train residents and attending physicians."
"Some women will have obstetric fistula. They'll be in labor for days without access to a doctor who can safely perform a C-section," Walton said.
She pointed out Niger is one of the world's poorest countries. "Girls are married at age 12 or 13 and delivering through small pelvises." Walton added, "Rwanda has been through trauma. Doctors in both areas are not trained and are doing C-sections incorrectly. We figure if we can teach and train them how to do it correctly, there will be fewer problems with the surgical repairs after the baby is delivered."
"It's like going home as I work with the same group every year," she said. "While I'm there, I'm working with the team 24/7. We've had some intense bonding experiences."
"Dr. Walton has filled an unspoken medical need for women here in our local community, regionally and internationally through her mission work in Africa," said Tori Bayless, president and CEO of AAMC. "We at Anne Arundel Medical Center are so very fortunate to work with physician leaders like Dr. Walton who are truly committed to the health of our communities."
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