For nearly three decades, Dr. Andrea Braundmeier-Fleming has fiercely fought back against endometriosis with nearly a dozen fertility sparing-surgeries.
And now she's fighting back in a whole new way.
Braundmeier is a researcher at Southern Illinois University's School of Medicine and has been working tirelessly to identify what she says are unique bacterial characteristics of endometriosis. (The Endometriosis Foundation of America funded the project through its research grant program). In January, as EndoFound originally reported, only 19 women participated in the research, but since then, "We now have 32 patients," Braundmeier tells The Blossom, adding that she and her team plan to submit their findings to the National Institute of Health (NIH) in June in hopes of procuring government funding and more participants.
She could be onto something big.
In analyzing the women's biomes, or the profile of microorganisms in and around the body, she has found "a variation", she says, in bacteria for "patients with endometriosis." Dr. Braundmeier and her team hope this discovery will help them be able to one day diagnose endometriosis more effectively through minimally-invasive samples such as vaginal swabs and urine samples. Presently, endometriosis can only be diagnosed with laparoscopic excision surgery, and a biopsy of tissue that pathology confirms is indeed endometriosis.
It's a project she hopes will one day save women from the pain and suffering she's had to endure.
"As soon as I had hit puberty, I just had really, really harsh menstrual cycles," she recalls. "My mom was like, 'This isn’t right. I do not know about a 14-year-old that should be in this much pain.'” At 17, a gynecologist performed surgery and diagnosed her with Stage III Endometriosis. For the next decade, she recalls having “a surgery probably every 18 to 20 months" to help control pain. More surgeries followed her into her thirties. At age 34, Braundmeier had surgery done to remove lesions from the right lung, her chest wall, and abdomen. Following her surgery, Braundmeier’s doctor told her that she had lesions all around her diaphragm and chest cavity. Her last surgery was in 2016, when, "I had such severe lesions on my chest cavity and my lungs that my lung was collapsing. So they did a bilateral thoracoscopy and laparoscopy, and they had to remove a section of my right lung because it was so damaged from the endometriosis."
Despite those seemingly neverending procedures, Braundmeier, 40, is now a mom of three, Andrew, 11; Morgan, 9; and William, 5. “I am lucky and very blessed to have three children even with living with endometriosis,” she says. Braundmeier recognizes the irony of her own personal health battle intersecting with her research. "In undergrad, I was doing research on male reproduction, and because I thought I was going to be infertile, I just learned as much as I could about reproduction. Then a new professor started and had this cool project on endometriosis, and I started asking all kinds of questions during her presentation."
Impressed with her knowledge and history of the disease, Dr. Braundmeier recalls the professor encouraging her to pursue her Ph.D. and extended an invitation to work with her. She lept at both opportunities, and the rest is history. Adds Braundmeier, "It was kind of [like] serendipity."