Caroline mathis, WHNP, B.C.
SANFORD, N.C. — Sarah Strong is appropriately named. The Cameron wife and mother of two is the primary caregiver for her mother and grandmother. She is also a tireless advocate for scores of children in her church, community and through the Guardian ad Litem program. Sarah defines strong.
When Strong sought relief for pain resulting from noncancerous tumors in her uterus, also called uterine fibroids, she found an equally strong force in Caroline Mathis, WHNP, B.C., at FirstHealth Obstetrics and Gynecology (OB/GYN) in Sanford.
"Caroline is the first OB/GYN that I have ever felt actually listened to me and gave me options," Strong shared with friends in a post on Facebook. "I feel like she truly took all my concerns into consideration. I've been battling fibroids for years with severe pain, and she actually laid out a plan the first time we talked."
For 13 years, Strong endured extreme pain with her monthly menstrual cycle that often resulted in nausea, vomiting and several days in bed with a heating pad. Over-the-counter pain relievers didn't help, and she did not want to rely on stronger medications or birth control to manage pain. At age 41, she wished to avoid a hysterectomy if possible.
At Strong's first appointment with Mathis, the nurse practitioner listened to Strong and took her desires into account. After an ultrasound to determine the fibroid's size and a biopsy that ruled out cancer, Mathis asked Strong if she had ever heard of a uterine fibroid embolization. She explained that with this procedure, an interventional radiologist inserts a catheter, or small, flexible tube, into an artery in her arm and guides it to the fibroid. Through the catheter, the doctor injects small particles into the artery that create a clot, thereby blocking the fibroid's blood supply. Without a source of nutrients, the fibroid shrinks within a few months, and symptoms decrease.
Strong agreed with this approach that requires no surgery and typically allows the patient to go home the same day or spend just one night in the hospital. Mathis connected her with Allen Joseph, M.D., an interventional radiologist with Pinehurst Radiology and FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital in Pinehurst. They agreed on a procedure date of June 1.
"The Wednesday before my procedure, Dr. Joseph called and talked with me for about 20 minutes," Strong said. "He went over the entire procedure and told me what to expect. He went over the pros and cons and made sure I understood and had all my questions answered."
At 6 a.m. on June 1, Strong and her husband arrived at Moore Regional Hospital. "Everyone was so nice," she said. Dr. Joseph again explained what was happening and what to expect. The procedure was over within a couple of hours, and Strong was in a recovery room shortly after that.
Dr. Joseph had told her to prepare to spend the night in the hospital, but she experienced no pain and was doing well, so he and his colleagues discussed and decided she could go home. "I was out by 7 p.m.," she said.
While Strong realizes there's no guarantee that the uterine fibroid embolization will completely shrink the tumor and in the future she may need surgery to remove it, she is excited to have a plan of action, something she did not have before. "I love their positive reinforcement and attitude of 'We're going to get you where you need to be,'" Strong said of Mathis, Dr. Joseph and her other health care providers. "I really felt like a person who was being listened to, who was being heard. I wasn't just somebody, but I was somebody important."
Mathis cares for Strong and other women in Lee County and beyond as part of a partnership with Pinehurst Surgical Clinic and FirstHealth. She is employed by Pinehurst Surgical Clinic but offers obstetrics and gynecology services at FirstHealth's Lee County campus at 2919 Beechtree Drive in Sanford off U.S. Highways 1 and 15-501. With this partnership, residents in Lee and surrounding counties can access specialty care that they would normally get only in Pinehurst to the south or Chapel Hill or Durham to the north.
"It was really handy for me to go to Sanford because I know my way around there a little more," said Strong, a Sanford native.
In addition to OB/GYN, patients can receive specialty care from Pinehurst Surgical Clinic providers at the FirstHealth Lee Campus for ear, nose and throat; orthopaedics; urology; and vascular and vein.
“We are pleased to be in Lee County so we can serve Mrs. Strong and others who need high-quality, specialty medical care close to home,” said David Grantham, M.D., president of Pinehurst Surgical Clinic. “Partnering with FirstHealth at its Lee Campus allows us to care for even more patients.”
FirstHealth's 65,000 square-foot facility, which opened in 2018, also houses offices for primary care, convenient care, back and neck pain services, imaging services with 3D mammography, oncology, physical therapy, cardiac rehabilitation and the area's only medically based fitness center. Neurology services are available through UNC Health Neurosurgery and Spine. A partnership with Pinehurst Medical Clinic offers cardiology and pulmonology.
As a fellow Lee County native, FirstHealth CEO Mickey Foster is pleased that more patients around the region have access to expanded care. “It’s uncommon for rural areas such as Lee County to have specialty medical care close to home,” said Foster. “Our partnerships with Pinehurst Surgical Clinic and other providers are making it happen.”
Strong looks forward to caring for even more people, particularly children. Several years ago, she completed an associate degree in Bible studies and plans to further her studies with a bachelor's, master's and perhaps doctorate degrees in Christian counseling or Christian education. With the possibility of fewer days in bed and more days on the go, her future looks strong.