Permanent, Drug-Free Solution for Chronic Reflux at Hoag

“I didn’t want to be on medications for the rest of my life, I knew that these simply masked my symptoms and did nothing to really stop the reflux,” Kellee says. “So when Dr. Lipham explained that this procedure would actually prevent reflux from occurring, I knew this was the best option for me.”

Kellee Young is too busy to let GERD slow her down.

The freelance wedding assistant and wedding- and conference-planning concierge at The Resort at Pelican Hill had been plagued by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) since her teen years. Medications and diet changes offered no relief. The daily bouts of nausea and chronic pain were unbearable.

But with her high-stakes job, Kellee has to focus on each client’s “Big Day,” not on her own GI issues. So the active outdoors-lover was relieved to learn about an innovative procedure at Hoag Hospital that would stop her GERD for good.

LINX Reflux Management System is a small medical device that looks like a bracelet of magnetic beads. Implanted through a tiny incision at the lower esophageal sphincter during a short outpatient procedure, the device eliminates the need for medications, and more importantly, it eradicates the pain.

As one of only three centers in California to offer the LINX system, Hoag Hospital is able to offer this groundbreaking surgical procedure, to change many lives, like Kellee’s.

“It’s hard to explain how incredible it is to feel good to people who’ve never experienced chronic pain and discomfort,” says Kellee with tears in her eyes. “I never knew how bad I felt, until experiencing how great it is to feel so healthy and well!”

After running a few tests, Hoag-affiliated Gastroenterologist Abhay Parikh, M.D. referred Kellee to John Lipham, M.D., one of only two surgeons in California trained and approved to implant the LINX device.

“Kellee had a moderate case of reflux that was not being adequately controlled by medication therapy,” explains Dr. Lipham, who serves as the Foregut Cancer Program director and chief of USC Affiliated Academic Programs at Hoag.

Dr. Lipham was a principal investigator in the FDA-regulated clinical trial of the LINX system and has over 5 years of experience implanting the device. He was also instrumental in establishing Hoag-USC Surgical Center for Digestive Diseases, a unique partnership between Hoag and the USC Keck School of Medicine that provides specialty care for complex GI conditions, here in Orange County.

So when Dr. Lipham reviewed Kellee’s case, he knew just how to help.

“After running a diagnostic study, we determined that she was an excellent candidate for a new FDA-approved, minimally-invasive surgical procedure known as LINX surgery,” he says.

In cases of GERD the esophageal valve – that gateway between the patient's stomach and mouth – fails to do its job properly. Acidic stomach contents make their way back up the esophagus, leaking painfully from the stomach to the mouth. Made of titanium beads with a magnetic core, the LINX device is designed to provide the additional strength needed to keep those weak valves closed.

Because the LINX device’s magnetic beads open with pressure, it allows patients to also belch, vomit and swallow normally. This is an important benefit to patients, as it eliminates the gas and bloating associated with traditional reflux surgery.

Kellee was thrilled to learn that there was finally a definitive treatment option for the ongoing condition that had so limited her life.

“I didn’t want to be on medications for the rest of my life, I knew that these simply masked my symptoms and did nothing to really stop the reflux,” Kellee says. “So when Dr. Lipham explained that this procedure would actually prevent reflux from occurring, I knew this was the best option for me.”

Dr. Lipham had long searched for alternative methods to treat GERD and served as a principal investigator on the device since the inception of LINX. With the addition of LINX, Hoag continues to lead Orange County in the treatment of foregut disease.

“This device is a huge advance for the treatment of reflux disease, which affects millions of people in the U.S.,” Dr. Lipham says.

Implanted laparoscopically during a 15-20 minute outpatient visit, LINX is best suited for patients with mild to moderate reflux that cannot be adequately controlled by medication, or for patients who do not want to take medication to manage the disease.

“The LINX device is implanted at the lower esophageal sphincter, a circular band of muscle, that closes the last few centimeters of the esophagus and prevents the backward flow of stomach contents,” Dr. Lipham explains.

The beads of the LINX device are connected together with titanium wires in the shape of a ring. The force of attraction of the magnetic beads is designed to assist the weak valve in closing properly.

“So, when a person swallows, the magnetic force between the beads is overcome by the higher pressure of the force of swallowing, causing the device to expand to accommodate food or liquid,” explains Dr. Lipham. “However, once the food or liquid passes though the valve, the LINX device returns to its normal state of keeping the valve closed, thereby eliminating gastric contents from refluxing back up into the esophagus.”

Of course, Kellee was primarily excited about the LINX procedure because it would put an end to her symptoms and to daily medications. Even more important, by stopping the reflux, Kellee knew that her risk for developing serious medical conditions such as Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer would be significantly reduced.

“I felt like my whole life revolved my GI issues,” Kellee says. “I just wanted to be able to go out to eat with my friends and family without worrying about getting nauseated or experiencing pain in the middle of a meal.”

Recovery from the LINX procedure is quicker than traditional surgery and requires less time on a liquid diet.

“My mom and aunt were awesome in that department,” Kellee says. “They whipped up fresh batches of juice blends for me using my aunt’s juicer. And in no time, I was able to enjoy a normal meal without any side effects for the first time in my life!”

Today, Kellee is living life to the fullest – enjoying her busy career with much more stamina, as well as enjoying relaxing meals with her friends and family without worrying about experiencing discomfort. In fact, Kellee couldn’t be more excited with the results of her surgery.

“I have so much freedom now – freedom from not only the physical discomfort, but also from the constant mental and emotional stress of having to deal with the symptoms every day,” she says. “I can’t thank Dr. Lipham and his team enough for giving me a whole new life!”

If you also suffer from the daily discomfort and pain associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease, you’re not alone. An estimated 20 percent of Americans are living with GERD. That’s why it’s so important to know that there are treatment options available that not only help to reduce symptoms, but also reduce the risk of developing other more serious medical conditions associated with GERD.

With the LINX procedure, there’s now a new option available that can put an end to reflux altogether.

“My advice to anyone who’s suffering from reflux disease is to get a second or third opinion," asserts Kellee. “It’s important to be proactive about your health and to take the time to seek out the right care for you.”

For more information about the new LINX procedure available through the Hoag Digestive Disease Center, click here. To learn more about Orange County’s primary provider for complex gastrointestinal care, visit Hoag-USC Surgical Center for Digestive Diseases.