Scripps La Jolla Performs 1st of a Kind Surgery

No incision necessary for new GERD Surgery to provide relief

Linda Sounart found relief from heartburn through a new incisionless surgery.

Linda Sounart found relief from heartburn through a new incisionless surgery.

Linda Sounart has suffered from chronic heartburn for almost 20 years. The 62-year-old Carlsbad resident has tried modifying her diet, popping antacids by the handful, and taking a variety of prescription medications.

But on May 6 at 1 p.m., Sounart became one of the first patients in San Diego County to undergo new “incisionless” procedure called Esophyx that promises to bring instant relief.

The Esophyx procedure is completed by inserting a special scope equipped with built-in instruments through the mouth and down through the esophagus. The scope is then used to create a new, fully-functioning valve from existing tissue.

The procedure generally takes less than an hour, and most patients can return to work the next day. And because no incision is needed, there is reduced pain, shorter recovery time and no visible scar.

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Sounart discusses GERD and the new incisionless surgery.

“The original anatomy of the esophagus is restored which creates a natural barrier against stomach acid—all without needing to make a single incision,” says Dr. Mark Sherman.

Understanding GERD prevalence and symptoms

Dr. Sherman, along with is partner, Dr. Cheryl Olson, performed Sounart’s surgery. This was the first of its kind performed at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla and only the second surgery performed in San Diego County.

The Esophyx procedure promises to provide much needed relief for millions of Americans that suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) every day. GERD — commonly referred to as heartburn or acid indigestion affects nearly 25 million adults on a daily basis, and more than 60 million feel its discomfort at least once a month.

Sounart describes her symptoms as “a hot pressure or a fire in my lower chest that spreads upward” and other times she will experience an acidic taste in her mouth.

GERD is caused when the valve between the esophagus and the stomach is weak or absent, allowing stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus or, in severe cases, into the lungs. In addition to daily pain and discomfort, GERD can damage the esophagus and the lungs, and even lead to cancer over the long term.

“Depending on the cause and severity of GERD, some people may obtain relief from symptoms by taking over-the-counter or prescription antacids or a reflux medication,” according to Dr. Olson.

“However, long-term use of these medications can inhibit the absorption of important minerals such as calcium, and patients still may have to avoid certain foods. Most importantly, medications don’t resolve the underlying anatomical problems that cause acid reflux.”

Surgical interventions for GERD

In chronic and severe cases, surgery may be needed to correct the anatomical problems that cause GERD which traditionally required either open or laparoscopic surgery — along with several incisions — to repair or rebuild the faulty valve.

According to Dr. Sherman, recent studies of Esophyx have shown that the procedure can reduce patients’ dependency on heartburn medications and dramatically improve quality of life, with 80 percent of patients remaining symptom-free and off medication two years after the surgery.