Often, many people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) suffer with chronic symptoms, not realizing that there are surgical options. At Seton, we hope that it can be inspiring to those with GERD to hear the success stories of others who have explored surgery options. One former patient, Natalie, suffered with her GERD symptoms for several years before finally finding the right doctor who could help. Dr. John Abikhaled has training in an anti-reflux robotic surgery method that could greatly improve her life. Here, she tells her story in her own words.
Symptoms of GERD
As Natalie explains, “Prior to having anti-reflux surgery, I was miserable for several years! After eating, I would experience reflux symptoms where I would get a terrible taste of throw-up in my mouth, and feel my stomach contents traveling up and down for several hours after eating. Occasionally, I would experience heartburn where I would feel a tightness and uncomfortable feeling in my chest, especially if I laid down after eating. My symptoms would become even worse if I exercised within five hours after eating. I also experienced chronic hoarseness from the acids constantly coming into my esophagus, which eventually caused a nodule and a cyst to grow on my vocal cords.”
Like Natalie, many people with GERD simply endure its symptoms, not realizing that something more effective than medication exists.
The persistent GERD symptoms were only part of Natalie’s frustration with her condition. “I was spending a lot of money on Nexium, taking 40 mg/day for several years, just to continue feeling miserable after eating. I finally consulted with my GI doctor to see what my options were for getting my reflux under control. After completing several tests and confirming I had abnormal amounts of acid coming into my esophagus, I decided I wanted to fix this once and for all, and explore surgery options.”
Natalie’s GI doctor referred her to Dr. Abikhaled at Austin Surgeons, who thought she’d be an excellent candidate for fundoplication, a procedure that creates a new valve that connects the stomach to the esophagus and closes off the affected area of the diaphragm. To do this, specialists are now able to insert a laparoscope with an attached camera into small incisions, which allows the surgeon to view images of the inside of the abdomen on a video screen. Because this method is minimally invasive and does not require a large incision, the recovery time is relatively short.
“During my consultation with Dr. Abikhaled, he was very understanding of my frustration with reflux, and helped me understand the functionality of my body and why I was experiencing the symptoms I was having,” says Natalie. “He explained the surgery, and exactly what he would do to correct the problem so that my body could function properly. I was hesitant about having surgery and did not want to have scars on my stomach, however, the success rates on anti-reflux surgery were high, and he reassured me that the scars would be small. I decided to take the leap and have the surgery!”
“When I went in for surgery, the staff was extremely nice and ensured both myself and my family were comfortable. After the surgery, I spent one night in the hospital and went home the next day. The first few days were uncomfortable, and I was sore where the five small incisions had been made, however, this went away within 10 days post-op. I was able to return to work two weeks after surgery and gradually resume my normal diet over the course of six weeks.”
When asked whether the surgery made a difference, Natalie’s answer is an unequivocal yes.
“It’s been 10 weeks since my surgery and I am back to doing what I love–running, lifting weights and eating! Occasionally, I get gas and feel a little bloated, but besides this, I feel fantastic. Nissen fundoplication is one of the best decisions I’ve made for my health and happiness. I am GERD free and back to living my life!”