Stone Center ensures people with kidney stones get treatment within 24 hours

February 08, 2023
Woman with long dark hair wearing a blue jacket drinks from a water bill as she holds a vitamin.
Gwen Rogers takes medicine before work to try to prevent kidney stones. She has a history of suffering from the painful little rocks and is happy a new clinic ensures she gets treatment quickly. Photo by Sarah Pack

Gwen Rogers knows all about kidney stones – not only because she’s a urology nurse but also, unfortunately, from plenty of personal experience. She’s had enough kidney stones to sense when one is about to make her life very uncomfortable. “A lot of times it’s just kind of a funny feeling that comes over you. At first, you feel a little nauseated; you feel a little dizzy, kind of like something’s not right.”

Then, depending on the size and location of the stone, the real discomfort may ramp up. While some kidney stones can pass through the body safely, sometimes the hard little rocks of salt and minerals get trapped in the urinary tract. 

Rogers described what that feels like. “The pain starts in the back or flank area and progressively gets worse. Then the pain wraps around over the hip, whether it be the left hip or the right, and wraps right into the groin area. It can be pretty excruciating and happens really quickly at that point.”

Illustration of kidneys on a black background. The one on the right is red and has a series of small kidney stones, including one blocking a passage. iStock 
This illustration shows small stones forming in a kidney, including one trapped in a urinary tract. iStock

The nurse, who recently moved to the Charleston area from North Carolina, said in the past, getting treatment wasn’t exactly a speedy process. “I would call the office; I’d wait for somebody to call me back, and that could take one or two days. Of course, when the pain kicks in, you end up going to the emergency room, and the wait there could take hours for them to see you and finally begin treatment.”

She’s grateful that MUSC Health now has a designated Kidney Stone Center with a hotline that offers treatment within 24 hours. When Rogers called that hotline on a recent Thursday evening, she was thrilled to be scheduled for surgery the next day.

Urologist Stephen Savage, M.D., leads the center. He knows how important it is to help patients such as Rogers, who are suffering, ASAP, using care tailored to their situations. “We have a dedicated full-time team. We have three fellowship-trained urologic specialists in stone disease. We will offer every treatment for stone disease, including endoscopic surgery, percutaneous surgery, robotic surgery and shockwave therapy,” Savage said.

Doctor wearing a necktie and a white coat talks with two women in non-medical clothing in a hallway. 
Dr. Stephen Savage talks with nurse Tiffany Kirbus, left, and physician assistant Joanne Daniel about upcoming patients at the MUSC Health Kidney Stone Center. Photo by Sarah Pack

Endoscopic surgery involves a urologist guiding a scope through the urinary tract to the stone to break it up. Percutaneous surgery means a tiny tube is put in the skin of your back to allow the doctor to find and get rid of the kidney stone. In robotic surgery, the doctor uses robotic instruments to go through small holes in the abdomen to remove the stone. And shockwave therapy uses shock waves to break kidney stones into small pieces so they’re easier for the body to get rid of.

Kidney stones are more common than you may realize. About one in 10 people get kidney stones, according to the National Kidney Foundation. Savage said his team takes care of patients throughout MUSC Health’s hospital system.“People in Lancaster, Florence, Kershaw, Marion – we work with all of them.”

Savage said a variety of dietary, environmental, hereditary and metabolic factors can cause stones. “There’s a lot of kind of folklore out there about why kidney stones form and a lot of misinformation. What we offer everybody is, ultimately, an analysis of what’s coming out in their urine to figure out why they’re making stones so we can make personalized, targeted recommendations for them so that they don’t have to go through this anymore.”

Rogers is trying a low oxalate diet, avoiding foods such as spinach, almonds and rhubarb that contain high amounts of the compound. She’s also taking medication to reabsorb calcium that is spilling into her urine and a supplement to increase her citrate to inhibit stone formation.

For her, there’s no magic trick to prevent kidney stones. She’s genetically predisposed to getting them. But proper diet and medication can drastically reduce her risk. And now, when she has one, she can get care almost immediately. 

“I definitely want to say that this has been a great advancement for patient care - making a CT scan available, making a surgical suite available, getting a doctor on board right away. When you’re in that much pain, it weighs heavy on you and you want relief fast. So time is of the essence at that point. The stone center team definitely has been a godsend, to be honest."

Get the Latest MUSC News

Get more stories about what's happening at MUSC, delivered straight to your inbox.