Sterling Heights woman back in the swing of life after heartburn surgery

8/6/2014

Sometimes the answer to a problem is right in front of you. For Kathleen Nevedal, now 63, it came in the form of a brochure.

She lived with stomach issues for about 25 years. Early on it was bouts with the discomfort of heartburn. But her acid reflux became more frequent, severe and disruptive - waking her in the middle of the night.

“At 1 or 2 in the morning I’d have to jump up out of bed. I’d sit in a chair for a few hours. It’s a nasty thing to have – the awful burning and gurgling in your throat,” the Sterling Heights resident recalls.

Her reflux affected her lifestyle- feeling sleep deprived and wondering when her stomach problems would return. An avid golfer, she found herself passing on her favorite game.

Kathleen worked in a family medical practice in Roseville and remembers the brochures promoting Beaumont’s Center for Reflux and Esophageal Cancer Prevention. She read the piece with interest, but was hesitant to visit the center.

She had a scope in 2009. Back then, the doctor told her she had pre-Barrett’s esophagus. Barrett’s esophagus is a condition caused by GERD that can lead to cancer. “That kind of scared me.”

That all changed in 2013 when Kathleen says, “I felt like I had glass in my lungs. This episode prompted me to visit the Center for Reflux at Beaumont Hospital, Troy.”

She was impressed with the attention she received. Kathleen remembers seeing four physicians including a gastroenterologist, an otolaryngologist and a surgeon. She liked the multidisciplinary approach, along with its nurse navigator. They diagnosed her stomach condition as GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease.

Frequent acid reflux, also known as GERD or heartburn, is caused by a weakened valve that joins the esophagus and the stomach. Normally, the valve opens to allow food to pass into the stomach and closes to keep stomach acid and food from backing up. In patients with acid reflux, the valve does not properly close, allowing acid to splash onto the fragile esophagus lining and wear it away.

Traditional treatments for reflux include lifestyle modifications and medications. According to Mark Herman, M.D., co-director, Center for Reflux and Esophageal Cancer Prevention, some people do not respond well to the medications because of side effects and bone loss. He says GERD can also be treated through endoscopy and surgery.

After tests, Kathleen learned she was a good candidate for a surgical treatment known as Nissen fundoplication. Explains Dr. Herman, “The primary surgery procedure for persistent heartburn is called fundoplication. During this procedure we recreate a valve mechanism where the esophagus enters the stomach. The two to two-and-a-half hour procedure stops acid from backing up into the esophagus. The surgery can be done less invasively: robotically or laparoscopically. Kathleen’s procedure was performed robotically. It usually requires an overnight stay in the hospital.”

Post-op patient recommendations include no strenuous activities for one to two weeks and a liquid diet until the one week follow-up appointment.

Kathleen credits the small incisions with a quick recovery. Nineteen months later, her health has not only improved, but she is now retired and back on the links. “Since my procedure, I have not experienced reflux - no more discomfort. I’m very happy. My only regret, I should have had the surgery sooner. It truly has changed so many aspects of my life.”