ORLANDO. (Ivanhoe Newswire) – Most of us will have a case of heartburn from time to time , but as many as 20 percent of all Americans live with a chronic condition known as GERD, gastroesophageal reflux disease, which can lead to esophageal cancer over time. Over-the-counter medications may give temporary relief from symptoms, but a unique procedure may stop the reflux for good.
For years, Erich Puhlman was sickened almost every time he ate a meal.
Puhlman told Ivanhoe, “Used to love hot foods, couldn’t eat the hot and spicy anymore.”
Nothing he tried relieved the burning sensation that would start in his stomach-then spread.
“It was like a heart attack. I never felt anything like it. In both my arms, it was the most painful experience I’ve ever had,” described Puhlman.
Puhlman suffered from GERD, chronic acid reflux caused by a backup of stomach acid into the esophagus. That back up occurs when there is a problem with the valve between the esophagus and the stomach, causing stomach acid to flow backwards.
Farid Gharagozloo, MD, a professor of surgery and the director of cardiothoracic surgery at Florida Hospital in Orlando, Florida, explained, “When you get a hiatal hernia, which means the hole gets bigger from pressure on it, the valve comes out.”
Dr. Gharagozloo is using a minimally-invasive procedure to fix the opening. Surgeons make small incisions in the abdomen and operate tiny robotic hands to create a new valve.
“Robotics has allowed us to have more dexterity and the ability to actually make a valve by pushing the esophagus into the stomach and getting it just right,” he told Ivanhoe.
Small sutures hold the new valve in place. The entire procedure takes one hour and patients go home the next day. For Puhlman and his wife, Dana, surgery marked a turnaround. Puhlman can now walk for miles, tackling a full day at Disney without needing a break.
“I was at one point close to 400 pounds. I am now near the 300 pound mark,” said Puhlman.
Dr. Gharagozloo said the patients who benefit most from this surgery are those who are younger and those with other complications like heart disease and bone disease.
Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising and Field Producer; Milvionne Chery, Assistant Producer; Tony D’Astoli, Editor; Brent Sucher, Videographer.