New Technology Provides Relief From Nightly Heartburn

Jeffrey Heckel found relief from nightly heartburn at St. Joseph's.For Jeffrey Heckel, 51, battling heartburn became a nightly ordeal— with regular 2 a.m. wake-up calls from his burning chest. Prescription medicine worked for awhile, but when those failed to ease the pain, his gastroenterologist referred him to Dr. Ross Bremner at St. Joseph’s. 

Heckel, a UPS driver and father of four, had a small hiatal hernia, a gap that allowed his stomach to extend into his chest, causing reflux of gastric acid into his esophagus. Bremner decided to take a less-traditional surgical approach to solving the problem, and, in doing so, Heckel became the first St. Joseph’s patient to undergo the LINX procedure.

“It is a new technology that offers a more physiologic approach to reflux disease than standard surgery,” Bremner said. “We are a center of excellence in esophageal disease and need to stay on the cutting edge.”

LINX involves placing a small ring of magnetic titanium beads around the gateway between the esophagus and the stomach.

“Remember when you were a kid, you had those candy necklaces? That’s what it is,” Heckel said. “It’s springy, so when you swallow and food goes down, it opens a little bit, then closes right up so food can’t come back up.”

More significantly, stomach acid can’t either. Patients whose stomach contents are regularly regurgitated back into the esophagus are often diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Aside from discomfort, GERD can lead to serious health problems, including ulcers, asthma exacerbations, pneumonia and, potentially, cancer.

“In the GERD spectrum, mild disease is well controlled with medications, while very severe disease and large hiatal hernias need traditional surgery,” Bremner explained. “The LINX treatment approach is applicable to all those millions of Americans in between the two ends of the spectrum of GERD.”

While traditional surgery takes up to four hours, and recovering patients are restricted to a liquid diet for a week after, LINX is a one-hour laparoscopic procedure. Patients can go home the next day and resume a normal diet immediately.

Shortly after his August LINX procedure, Heckel told Bremner, “You know, there’s something missing. I don’t have that constant burning in my chest anymore.”