'My prostate problem left me terrified of getting caught short until a half-hour £3,850 procedure gave me back my life'
An embarrassing health issue left security consultant Martin Callan, from Co Armagh, unable to go for walks with his wife or enjoy his hobby of flying light aircraft. Wary of the possible side-effects of surgery, he tells Stephanie Bell how finally a non-invasive treatment proved the answer
A constant urge to go to the toilet during the day and night destroyed security consultant Martin Callan's quality of life for a number of years.
A good night's sleep was impossible, simple car journeys became a challenge and he had to give up his hobby of flying light aircraft completely.
But then the 62-year-old from Co Armagh, who had been diagnosed with an enlarged prostate gland, became the first person in Northern Ireland to undergo a revolutionary new procedure to correct it. The treatment lasted just half an hour and put an end to years of misery.
Benign prostate enlargement is a condition associated with ageing and is common in men over 50.
Around four in 10 men (40%) over 50 and three out of four (75%) in their 70s will experience urinary symptoms caused by an enlarged prostate.
The cause is still unknown although most experts believe it is linked to hormonal changes that occur as a man gets older.
When the prostate becomes enlarged it can place pressure on the bladder, causing a frequent need to urinate, and difficulty in fully emptying the bladder.
In some men the symptoms are mild and don't require treatment. In others, as in Martin's case, it can have a major impact on the quality of life.
Up until now, medication and, in severe cases, surgery, which requires a general aesthetic and a one to two night stay in hospital, were the only options, and carried risks.
Martin was fortunate to be diagnosed just as local private health care company, 3fivetwo, introduced its new procedure, Urolift, at Kingsbridge Hospital on the Lisburn Road in Belfast.
Urolift is non-invasive and can be carried out in just half an hour with instant results.
The consultant urologist, Mr Ajay Pahuja, was the first professional in Northern Ireland to train in the procedure and is involved in a trial to have it made available on the Health Service.
For Martin, it really did transform his life in every way. His job as a security consultant, which can take him all over the world but especially to the Middle East where he manages high security projects, was also proving difficult because of his condition.
Indeed, he describes the three years before his procedure as a "nightmare".
He says: "It impacts on your entire life and you spend your life going to the toilet.
"When it started a couple of years ago I just put it down to old age. Back then I was getting up once a night to go to the toilet but, when I started getting up four or five times a night, I realised it had to be something more.
"It was so bad that it got to the stage when my wife and I had to sleep in separate rooms because neither of us was getting a good night's sleep, which wasn't an ideal way to live.
"Not sleeping affects your whole day and your ability to work. The other problem was I would have gone to the toilet and, just after I pulled my zip up, I felt the urge to go again.
"The prostate can press on your urethra which stops you emptying your bladder. This means that when you go to the toilet you are not emptying your bladder and you have to go back again."
It was how his condition impinged on the quality of his life which frustrated Martin most. As well as getting poor sleep, his daytime routine had to be changed to accommodate the constant urge to go to the toilet.
He says: "I used to fly light aircraft at Newtownards airfield and I had to stop because I couldn't fly even an hour without having to go to the toilet.
"I avoided long car journeys as I would have had to keep stopping to look for toilets.
"The urge to go to the toilet was absolutely overwhelming and I had heard some horror stories of men who found themselves in areas where there was no toilet and they had wet themselves. I thought 'that's not going to happen to me'.
"I couldn't even go for a walk with my wife in the park, it was a nightmare."
Martin started to read up on his symptoms and arranged to see his GP who diagnosed an enlarged prostate. Surgery on the NHS was an option but the waiting list was up to two years and the procedure was not without potential complications.
Martin says: "The surgery can lead to sexual dysfunction and infections, and you are on tablets after it for the rest of your life and I didn't fancy that at all.
"I was fortunate in that I have paid private health insurance for years and so I made an appointment to see a consultant at 3fivetwo.
"Luckily their urologist had just come back from England where he had trained to do the Urolift procedure.
"He did a simple flow test on my urine and determined that I would be suitable for Urolift and made the appointment for me to come back a couple of weeks later. I was the first person in Northern Ireland to have it."
Urolift is a day procedure carried out under local anaesthetic and which is known to be effective in 80% of cases.
Mr Ajay Pahuja explains: "Currently the options are two types of laser technology and surgery known as TURP. Both of these involve cutting away or removing existing prostate tissue and both lead to permanent side effects on sexual function in men.
"They also require two days' stay in hospital and have lingering side effects lasting between six and two weeks before recovery. If patients come back with bleeds or infections there are further demands on both the patient and the NHS.
"This is where Urolift can make a real difference. It is a non-invasive day procedure which requires no overnight stay and no cutting or removing of tissue. We have carried out a trial of five procedures in Belfast City Hospital and I know that there have been trials in Craigavon Hospital and we are happy to put a case together.
"I would be optimistic that it should be available within a year. It really is a game changer although not everyone is suitable for it and one size doesn't fit all."
In the meantime, the procedure is being offered at Kingsbridge Private Hospital which is good news for anyone with health insurance. However, it is a pricey solution, costing £3,850.
Martin was delighted that he had private health insurance which gave him the option of Urolift, and he says the results for him were instant.
"It was all done while I was awake and took about half an hour. I didn't feel a thing, it was completely painless and I was back home that afternoon and back at work the next day.
"My symptoms disappeared straight away. I passed some blood the first day which was quite normal. I went back for another flow test a few weeks later and it was good.
"I haven't looked back. Immediately, I had the first good night's sleep in years and my wife and I no longer have to sleep in different rooms.
"It is just great not having that constant urge to go to the toilet. My work and home life and every area of my life went back to normal again and the pressure was lifted. My father-in-law went through a prostate operation and he has had nothing but problems with bleeding and infections and that was four years ago and he is still going through it."
Martin adds: "Urolift is non-invasive and it gives you your life back. I have been paying private health insurance for 30 years and sometimes I used to think that if I had not paid it, I would have saved all that money, but now that I am older I realise it is money well spent. I was fortunate to have it and for anyone who can afford this procedure I couldn't recommend it highly enough."
For further details go to www.3fivetwo.com or call the company, tel: 028 9066 7878
The warning signs to look out for
The medical term for an enlarged prostate is Benign Prostatic Enlargement. An enlarged prostate causes the walls of the urethra to narrow and squeeze together resulting in urinary retention, with symptoms such as slow urine flow and a need for frequent urination. The condition can have a significant impact on a man's quality of life.
Sufferers may find that they need to stay near a toilet, which can make it difficult to work, drive, be outdoors and attend social events. If you are getting up a lot during the night to go to the toilet, you may find you feel more tired during the day.
The condition is common in men after the age of 50, with about 40% suffering urinary symptoms associated with an enlarged prostate. That figure rises sharply to approximately 70%, for men over the age of 60. Symptoms include:
● Weak or slow urine flow.
● Frequent urination, especially at night
● Urgent need to rush to the toilet, with occasional leaking
● Difficulty urinating and fully emptying the bladder
● Feeling that your bladder has not emptied properly
● Urinary stream that starts and stops
● Difficulty or delay in starting urination
● Needing to push or strain to start urinating
● Dribbling urine
● Blood in urine.