One in 10 Americans will be affected by kidney stones at some point in his or her life, and about a million patients will experience a kidney stone attack this year. While most stones will pass on their own, larger stones can be life-threatening.
Now, there is a new non-invasive treatment that can safely wipe out stones, even in extreme cases.
A sudden slip out of the shower one morning saved Stacy Cassell's life.
"It was by the grace of God that I fell. If I wouldn't have fallen, we may have never have found them," Cassell said.
Back pain from the fall sent her to the emergency room, but doctors found something much more serious, Staghorn kidney stones, so big they nearly filled both kidneys.
"He's [the doctor] was like, 'If we didn’t find these, you could have been dead by the end of the year," Cassell explained.
Dr. Julio Davalos said our bodies naturally flush out most kidney stones, but once they reach about the size of a raisin they become hard to pass. Cassell’s were so large, surgery was her only option.
Davalos used a new laser called lumenis versapulse on Cassell's stones. This enabled her to pass the stones on her own, lowering her risk of complications.
"This laser technology really helps in that manner in that I'm able to fragment the stone into minute grains of sand and that can just sort of pass out of the kidney and flush out," said Davalos, a doctor at Chesapeake Urology.
Since a special type of laser energy setting is used, there's a better chance that no other tissue is affected, saving Cassell's kidneys and giving her a second chance with her son and dog.
Cassell's doctor told her she most likely got the stones because she doesn’t keep herself hydrated.
The lumenis versapulse laser can be used in advanced cases like Cassell's or to dust smaller stones. The minimally invasive treatment usually requires general anesthesia, but patients can go home the same day.