Ben Franklin’s new approach to an old problem

Benjamin Franklin, an American icon and one of the most respected of America’s founding fathers was, despite having only two years of formal schooling, a prolific inventor and scientific investigator. His inventions included the lightning rod, the “Franklin stove,” bifocal eyeglasses, the odometer, the “Glass Armonica” and the silk woven catheter.

Franklin’s new musical instrument, the “Glass Armonica” with its “heavenly sound” was an instant European sensation and even Beethoven and Mozart composed music for it. But it was the silk woven catheter that brought him into urological history. He and his brother suffered with prostate enlargement and urinary tract stone formation.

The agonizing pain of prostate and stone obstruction led him to improve on the previous rigid and irritating catheters of that day by weaving one out of silk and a type of shellac. This gave the catheter smoothness and flexibility and permitted efficient and repeated drainage of urine from the obstructed bladder. In those days, prostate surgery had yet to be invented.

Advances in anesthesia, intravenous therapy, blood transfusion and antibiotics finally permitted a surgical approach to this common male problem. The surgical approach remained the principal method of treatment for many years, culminating in the various relatively modern procedures as TURP, TUNA, and LASER of the prostate. Then effective drug therapies such as Avodart to shrink the prostate and Flomax to relax the muscle within the prostate became available. As a result, the surgical approach has receded as the treatment of choice and is no longer considered the best initial approach for the patient suffering with symptomatic prostate enlargement.

There are times, however, when for any one of a variety of reasons the patient suffering with any combination of a slow, hesitant, or interrupted flow, urinary frequency, urgency, incomplete emptying, prolonged urination with dribbling, incontinence, the need to push or strain and sleep deprivation, caused by night time urination cannot or will not take the medication required.

The need for a better alternate to a surgical approach was met with the development of “TUMT,” Transurethral Microwave Thermotherapy. This office treatment does not require anesthesia. It is a one-time long lasting treatment, successful in the great majority of patients. There are several different microwave treatments available but the safest of all is the FDA approved TherMatrx unit. There has never been a single “SAE,” serious adverse event resulting from the use of this equipment reported to the FDA, the federal agency responsible for the safety and efficacy of medical devices in the United States. Ben Franklin would surely smile if he could see how the electricity he investigated at the end of a kite string in a rainstorm had been harnessed to produce microwaves that could apply thermotherapy (heat) through a special catheter directly to the patients prostate and thereby effectively relieve the symptoms of prostate enlargement.

Have a question? Call Dr. Okun at 718-241-6767

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