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Putting out the fire of heartburn

Thursday, April 13, 2017

“I never drank battery acid, but that is what it would probably feel like if I did,” says Michael Hardesty. The 29-year-old Sycamore firefighter and resident has put out the flames of heartburn (also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD) by undergoing a 45-minute, minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery at Northwest Community Healthcare (NCH).

Since the age of 17, Hardesty managed his condition through diet, over-the-counter medication and proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs), drugs that provide relief by reducing gastric acid production. “I had a chronic cough, which was diagnosed as part of the heartburn, and I had constant pain from the time I woke up to the time I went to bed—all day, every day,” Hardesty says.

“I realized that bad heartburn untreated was a precursor to esophageal cancer, and I lost two of my uncles to the disease,” Hardesty says. “Luckily, a coworker of mine was already seeing Dr. Parsons.”

Michael scheduled an appointment with Willis Parsons, M.D., Medical Director of the Northwest Community Healthcare (NCH) Gastroenterology Center. Dr. Parsons evaluated Michael and diagnosed his condition, a hiatal hernia and GERD.

Dr. Parsons conducted esophageal manometry testing. This swallowing test is used to measure how well the esophagus works, particularly the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), or band of muscles that open and close where the esophagus meets the stomach. This test allows the doctor to determine how well the esophagus is able to move food to the stomach. The results help determine whether a patient is a good candidate for surgery.

Hardesty was referred to Gary Chmielewski, M.D., a thoracic surgeon at NCH, who discussed solutions with Hardesty and recommended magnetic sphincter augmentation surgery (LINX®).

During the LINX procedure, the surgeon places a band of magnetic beads around the weakened gastroesophageal valve. The force between the magnetic beads strengthens the valve, preventing acid reflux, but allowing the valve to open for swallowing.

“The surgery consists of four to five small incisions – one is for the camera, the others are for working instruments,” says Dr. Chmielewski. “I bet that if you looked at Michael’s abdomen right now, you would have a hard time seeing the incisions—they’re that small.”

Hardesty was able to go home the day of his procedure – just a couple of hours after surgery. “I went straight to solid foods with no change in diet—a big selling point for me,” he says.

Chmielewski wants people to be aware of the options that are available for treating GERD, besides a lifelong medication regimen, which could simply mask more serious diseases.

“I don’t want to be a ‘the-sky-is-falling’ kind of guy, but we do undertreat reflux in this country, which could be a reason why esophageal cancer is on the rise,” says Dr. Chmielewski. “I perform a lot of surgeries for patients diagnosed with esophageal cancer. It is gratifying to provide patients a choice that can potentially prevent further damage to the esophagus that could lead to cancer,” he says.

If you suffer from heartburn or GERD, take NCH’s online GERD risk assessment and learn how NCH can help.

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