Procedure offers relief for reflux sufferers

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) -  Sore throat, persistent cough, bloating--some of the many signs of reflux.  Long-term these problems become known as GERD, or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease.  Numerous medications offer relief.  But not everyone can take them.

Just a sip of water could cause waves of pain for Phillip Craft, a retired farmer and avid hunter.  "It's like throwing gas on a fire," said Craft.  "It just burns and hurts."  Craft has had  had stomach problems for 30 years.

"It just got to where I just, I just quit taking the medicine." said Craft  Side effects like nausea and headaches were almost worse.  So Craft sought help from a specialist.

"It looks like the TIF will probably work," said Dr. Bob Warner, a thoracic surgeon with Jonesboro Surgical Associates.

Dr. Bob Warner and Dr. Lynn Wiggins are the only physicians in the area trained in a fairly new procedure called TIF, or transoral (through the mouth) incisionless (no stitches) fundoplication (where the upper part of the stomach is wrapped around the lower end of the esophagus).

"At two years after the surgery, 80% of the people who have the surgery are still free of medicine and still have a good result," explained Dr. Warner.

The day schedule for surgery finds Phillip Craft a bit nervous.

"I'm ready," he said smiling broadly from his hospital bed at St. Bernards.  As Craft is taken to the operating room, Dr. Wiggins and Dr. Warner show me the EsophyX TIF device that will reshape Craft's esophageal valve.  It looks like a high-tech fishing rod.  A tiny camera, or endoscope slides down through the middle.

"You put all of that with the patient asleep through the mouth and down into the stomach," said Dr. Wiggins.  The device is snaked down into Craft's inflated stomach and goes to work--forming and fastening tissue folds to make a new anti-reflux valve.

"A spiral metal piece that grabs the tissue, brings it down into that articulated end and then it shoots a stylette," said Dr. Wiggins.   Blue plastic brads that look like those found holding price tags on clothing--work to create a new valve and anchor it into place.  The surgery is complete.

Two weeks later...

"I'd really like to have a pork chop!"

But, solid food has to wait.  Recovery time demands a liquid diet for several weeks.  But is his problem gone?

"I have no reflux and it's good!" said Craft.

Because there are no incisions, patients like Craft can usually leave the hospital the next day after surgery.  They can return to work and family activities--but just have to stick to a strict diet until their stomach heals.

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