Julie Engquist ties her shoes. She sleeps with just one pillow. She walks her dog.
If these things don’t sound groundbreaking, you’ve likely never contended with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). But Julie had. For 10 years.
“The pain and discomfort were overwhelming,” she said. “There were a few times where I thought I was having a heart attack and went to the ER. Nothing you eat stays down, you are always experiencing this rough, burning sensation.”
Julie is in her 70s, the same age her mother was when she underwent an invasive and, ultimately, unsuccessful operation to alleviate GERD symptoms. Julie remembered her mother’s experience well and decided she would not consider a surgical option.
But ignoring GERD has its own set of consequences. GERD is a common condition that causes acid to backwash from the stomach, which can erode the lining of the esophagus and can lead to esophageal cancer. By managing symptoms with medication alone, the acid is somewhat controlled, but not the regurgitation or the reflux. GERD develops as a mechanical failure when patients develop a hiatal hernia, where part of the stomach slides to the chest and the lower esophageal sphincter also weakens.
Julie’s internist recommended that she speak with Daryl Pearlstein, M.D., director of Thoracic Surgery & Lung Cancer, who explained that today’s procedures are nothing like the surgery her mother endured.
“I went into the office quite intimidated. My mother had four inches of her esophagus removed and she suffered quite a bit. Dr. Pearlstein could not have been more professional. He talked to me about what the new procedure entails. He was just so positive. When I walked out of the office, there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to get this done,” she said.
Dr. Pearlstein introduced Julie to Phuong Nguyen, M.D., medical director of Hoag Advanced Endoscopy Center. The two specialists work together with hiatal hernia repair and transoral incisionless fundoplication (TIF) to perform CTIF, which combines endoscopic repair with robotic surgery. Hoag is a leader in the procedure.
More than 90% of CTIF patients see a significant reduction in symptoms without the need for anti-reflux medication. In the first eight months since her procedure, Julie has used antacids only twice – and both times, she suspects it was diet related.
No major recovery. No dependency on medications. Julie talks up the CTIF procedure to everyone she knows.
“You feel good within a few days,” she said. “Nothing was removed. They just fixed it all up and made it better.”
Julie said the Hoag Digestive Health Institute’s office staff called to check on her, answered her questions and provided her with the information and support she needed throughout the process.
“They work very hard to make it patient-friendly,” she said. “They’re very professional.”
Julie gave away the pillow wedge she used to help prop herself up at night – sleeping prone was not an option before the surgery. She bends down without experiencing a burning sensation and goes about her day without ever giving her stomach a thought. Best of all, her most recent endoscopy revealed that her esophagus no longer shows signs of damage.
“I tell people that surgery is nothing at all to be concerned about,” she said. “Everything is so much easier. I lived for so many years afraid to eat things and constantly uncomfortable. Now, I no longer think about it. That’s the end result the doctors want you to have. I received the best results.”
To learn more or make an appointment, visit hoag.org/digestive.