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Dr. Nicole Donnellan

Dr. Nicole DonnellanMagee’s Dr. Nicole Donnellan Helps Women with Complex GYN Needs
By Nancy Kennedy

Endometriosis is a common and painful condition that affects 15-20% of women, compromising their quality of life during the years that should be their prime of life: the years between 25 and 45. The disease can not only cause pain and suffering, but also result in infertility. To Nicole Donnellan, M.D., this is unacceptable, and she is putting her formidable energy and expertise into gaining a better understanding of endometriosis, with the goal of improving quality of life for the young women affected by this disease.

Donnellan, a gynecologist, surgeon and endometriosis researcher, is on the staff of the Center for Minimally Invasive Gynecologic Surgery at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, where surgeons utilize the most advanced techniques to treat gynecologic problems. Minimally invasive surgery (MIS), which includes both laparoscopic and robotic surgery, requires smaller incisions and produces less post-operative pain, bleeding and scarring. It can be used to treat a variety of GYN conditions, including fibroids, abnormal bleeding, pelvic pain and endometriosis.

Despite its prevalence, endometriosis is poorly understood and often unrecognized. “Delay in diagnosis is a major problem when it comes to endometriosis,” Donnellan explains. “It affects people differently, and too often, women who are experiencing pelvic pain are dismissed without an appropriate work-up. This can lead to years of pain and suffering, drastically decreasing a young woman’s quality of life.

“We actually know little about endometriosis; we still don’t know the cause. My research is a novel basic science study, meaning that we are doing investigations at the tissue level, in an effort to get to know endometriosis better. We’re asking fundamental questions: what is the tissue telling us? What is the patient’s pain telling us? How does the patient’s pain correlate with the tissue we see at time of surgery? We’re building a tissue bank to help us answer such questions and fortunately, we have a large patient population here who can contribute to the research.”

Donnellan is a powerhouse of energy and enthusiasm who brings exceptional gifts to every endeavor. She loves her work as a surgeon, finding it rewarding and even, at times, exhilarating: “I enjoy going to work and facing new challenges. No two patients are the same; no disease presents the same way in every patient. I love seeing the impact you can make on an individual’s life. Seeing positive outcomes is so rewarding.”

Donnellan also focuses on imparting her skills to the next generation of OB/GYNs, for which she has been recognized. In May 2011, she was awarded the Fellows Teaching Award, an honor bestowed by the residents at graduation to one fellow, chosen from among all the gynecology subspecialty fellows. She was recognized for her leadership and skill in simulation training as well as overall commitment to resident education. “Magee is a top-rated residency program full of bright, aspiring ob/gyns. It’s an honor to be recognized by such a fantastic group of people.”

What is endometriosis?

According to Dr. Donnellan, endometriosis occurs when the tissue that normally lines the uterus and is shed during the menstrual period migrates and implants at other sites within the abdomen and pelvis, such as the bladder, ovaries, fallopian tubes and intestines. Similar to the tissue in the uterus, these “ectopic” or aberrant tissue lesions can respond to hormone fluctuations. Such lesions can lead to infertility and incapacitating pelvic pain as well as pain with intercourse and bowel movements. Pain can be isolated to time of menses but may also progress to affecting women on more days than not during the month. Some women even suffer from daily, constant pelvic pain. Treatment of endometriosis-associated pelvic pain begins with an appropriate gynecologic work-up to ensure that there is not another reason for pain, such as genitourinary, gastrointestinal or musculo-skeletal conditions. Endometriosis-associated pelvic pain can be alleviated by medical options, such as hormones, as well as by surgical removal of the lesions.

She is a native of New England who attended medical school at the University of Pittsburgh and completed her OB-GYN residency at Magee. Her interest in endometriosis, and gynecology in general, is rooted in personal experience. “My mother went through a lot of gynecologic pain and that sparked my interest in women’s health,” she says. She completed a fellowship in minimally invasive surgery at Magee, and is now in partnership with Dr. Ted Lee and Dr. Suketu Mansuria, who were her teachers and mentors for her fellowship. According to Dr. Lee, Donnellan is a great addition to the department. “Nicole is a resourceful person with ideas and initiative,” he says. “She takes a thorough approach to her patients, knowing that the best surgery begins before you go into the O.R. It begins with knowing the patient as a whole person and having an individual plan. She has the capacity to see the big picture, including the patient’s disease as well as their lifestyle and overall health.”

Donnellan admires her colleagues not only for their professional achievements, but also for being well-rounded people – a trait that she shares with them. She’s a gynecologist, surgeon, teacher, researcher, athlete, wife, and for the past four weeks, a mother. Her newborn son, Colin, was born at 36 weeks gestation after a complicated pregnancy, and is doing well. Donnellan’s pregnancy and birth experience have given her new insight, she says, that will serve her well when she returns to work. “Pregnancy and birth have made me more empathetic to my patients. I see things now from the patients perspective and I have a better understanding of pain.” To cope with the stress of her work, Donnellan turns to her lifelong love: athletics. She was a triple-threat athlete in high school, playing on the varsity soccer, swimming and tennis teams, and swam with her Middlebury College swim team for all four years. Today, she runs, swims and skis and has completed several marathons as well as the Pittsburgh Triathlon. “I love exercise, being outdoors and spending time with my family. I like Pittsburgh; everything here is so accessible. UPMC is a top academic environment, second to none, where your training and education never stop. Magee was my first choice for my residency and fellowship; it’s a national center of excellence and so progressive. Ultimately, my goal is to be one of the leading minimally invasive surgeons in the country, excelling in both research and patient care. Our department is one of the top ten in the nation and we want to take it further through stellar care of our patients and continued progressive research.”

To make an appointment with Dr. Donnellan at Magee Womens Hospital of UPMC, call (412) 641- 6412. To make an appointment at the new Magee Womens Specialty Services in Mount Lebanon, call (412) 429-3900.

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