For 20 years, one male physician has provided the only gynecological care in the Valley, but a new doctor has now hung a shingle, doubling alternatives for local women.
“Is it better for a woman to see a female gynecologist? It’s different, maybe easier, because we have the same parts,” said Dr. Lizellen La Follette, whose new office is in the blue-roofed building where First Street West crosses Andrieux Street. “It’s the only medical discipline where we take care of one sex, and it’s interesting that gynecology is generally male-dominated.”
La Follette, 55, can’t remember a time when men didn’t rule women’s health. “In residency, there were three guys and me. You looked at a picture of a doctor from those times and what did you see? A man in a white coat... hello!” La Follette talks fast and laughs often. She’s a cheerful, high-energy sort.
High energy is a requirement in her line of work, where things are often busiest in the middle of the night. As an OB/GYN, La Follette supervises all aspects of women’s sexual health, from routine care to pregnancy and birth.
“You’re on 24/7, and that’s a different career path than 9 to 5,” La Follette said. “I’m typically on-call Tuesdays and Thursdays, and one weekend out of every three. Last week was crazy! We had five babies from four moms,” La Follette said.
Sonoma Valley Hospital is well-equipped to handle “regular” births, but “high-risk” patients must travel to Marin General Hospital, where La Follette splits her practice and her time. Women deemed high-risk may present with a variety of challenges, from pre-existing medical conditions, to obesity, to advanced age. Multiple births, too, are more medically complex, as are what obstetricians call VBACs. “Sonoma Valley Hospital doesn’t do vaginal birth after C-section,” La Follette said. “Anyone who wants to do that has to come to Marin. It really has to do with OB trauma. Chaos can happen. You never know what’s coming in the door, and everyone has to be available.”
In 25 years of medical practice, La Follette has seen women make all manner of gains, but is still puzzled by a pervading restraint. “Women are less reticent now,” La Follette said, “but I’m always surprised that women still don’t seem to understand their own anatomy better. Physicians are educators, right? But the patient has to do her part. The patient has to meet us halfway.”
La Follette, for one, is doing her part, actively pursuing the state of the art. She is heavily involved with the Buck Institute for Research and Aging in Novato, and feels strongly that physicians are obligated to keep up with technology. “You need to make sure you are getting someone who reads and stays current,” she said.
One of the groundbreaking technologies La Follette advocates use of is a fractional CO2 laser for vaginal resurfacing. Long used by dermatologists to plump aging skin, it was the Italians who first thought to try applying the treatment elsewhere.
By sloughing off dead skin and allowing new skin to make collagen, women are “eliciting their own body’s healing,” La Follette explained. “Not only does it work, it pushes back menopause.”
Three treatments are given six weeks apart, with each session completed in just about five minutes. An annual touch-up is required after the initial series, and La Follette believes the protocol changes lives. “For anyone with vaginal symptoms from menopause or cancer, the treatment is a serious game-changer,” she said.
Sonoma Valley Hospital’s A Woman’s Place
Participating doctors include:
Alexia Alexandridis, MD, Breast and General Surgery
D. Paul Amara, MD, OB/GYN
Lizellen La Folette, MD, OB/GYN
Rebecca Levy-Gantt, DO, OB/GYN
Geeta Malik, MD, Family Medicine
Sujatha Pathi, MD, Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery
Angela Cuento Marian, PT, DPT, Pelvic Health Physical Therapy