Help for those having trouble swallowing

Published: Sep. 15, 2020 at 11:09 AM EDT
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It’s called Achalasia, where people lose the ability to swallow. It’s far more serious than heartburn, acid reflux, and GERD, and can lead to death. But a new, less invasive technique is making it possible for patients to swallow again.

On her way back to college, 51-year-old Jennifer Smilie has had trouble swallowing food.

“When I would eat regular food, I would immediately have like a choking feeling and would have to run to the nearest bathroom to vomit the food that was stuck,” Jennifer explained.

Turns out what she thought was acid reflux, was actually a rare condition called Achalasia, where the bottom muscle of her esophagus would not open to allow food to enter her stomach. Most people lose weight, but Jennifer consumed nothing but milkshakes that caused her to become obese. Now a new technique will allow her to eat solid foods again.

“I think it’s one of the biggest advances we’ve had in esophageal surgery in a long time,” shared Steven Leeds, MD, FACS, Division Chief of Minimally Invasive Surgery at Baylor Scott & White Health.

Dr. Leeds applied an advanced technique called “POEM”, peroral endoscopic myotomy, to open up the bottom of her esophagus through her mouth, instead of cutting into her abdomen.

“No incisions on her, no recovery time, and no pain,” said Dr. Leeds.

Before the POEM procedure, Jennifer underwent gastric bypass surgery and lost 130 pounds. Now, she can eat whatever she wants.

“It’s been life-changing for me. I no longer have any reflux, I don’t have to worry about where the nearest bathroom is, I can eat in wonderful moderation anything that I want to eat,” stated Jennifer.

Including spicy foods.

“Yes, I do. I do like spicy food,” smiled Jennifer.

The “POEM” technique is not available in every hospital, so people who suffer with Achalasia should consult a specialist and ask specifically about the peroral endoscopic myotomy.

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