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Surgery can help acid reflux victims

Kelly Turner, left, who a day earlier had undergone major surgery to correct her acid reflux condition, holds pictures of the LINX device installed around her esophagus. Dr. Chris Smith, right, performed the revolutionary surgery at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital.

Kelly Turner, left, who a day earlier had undergone major surgery to correct her acid reflux condition, holds pictures of the LINX device installed around her esophagus. Dr. Chris Smith, right, performed the revolutionary surgery at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital.

ALBANY -- "Mexican," said Kelly Turner, recipient of a revolutionary surgical procedure to cure her long-term acid reflux. "I cannot wait to eat Mexican."

Considering Turner had chicken and rice just hours after her recent surgery, Mexican food is definitely on her horizon.

Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital announced last week that Dr. Chris Smith, a general surgeon with Albany Surgical, has performed one of the country's first procedures using a device designed for the treatment of gastrointestinal reflux disease, or GERD. Smith was one of only 15 surgeons in the United States conducting trials on the LINX Reflux Management System, made by Torax Medical and approved by the Food and Drug Administration in March.

The LINX System is a small implant comprising interlinked titanium beads with magnetic cores, which surround the lower part of the esophagus "like a bracelet," Smith said. In layman's terms, the attraction between the beads causes the device to gently squeeze the esophagus and prevent acid from flowing upward from the stomach. When food passes down the esophagus, the magnets separate to expand up to twice the bracelet's diameter, thus allowing food into the stomach. The device then closes to prevent reflux.

According to Smith, the LINX System is installed using a minimally invasive laproscopic procedure and is a revolutionary improvement over the more anatomically disruptive Nissen fundoplication, which had been the preferred anti-reflux surgical technique. Smith said because of the manner in which it's done, burping and vomiting are also much easier for the patient after the LINX procedure than with the previous Nissen surgery.

"This is more for patients who are unhappy with their medications, who don't want to take medicine for the rest of their lives," Smith said. "Medicines are expensive and have significant side effects, which can be more evident every year."

According to Smith, anti-relux medicines such as Zantac and Prilosec work by making a strong acid into a weak one, basically creating an unnatural situation within the stomach. That is why the FDA puts warning labels on those medications for more than six weeks of steady usage.

"The stomach doesn't mind acid at all," Smith said. "It's the esophagus that doesn't like acid."

Smith said that without sufficient acid, humans can't ionize calcium and magnesium, and for patients with low magnesium, a fibromyalgia-type state can result. Acid deficiency can also cause osteoporosis, a lowering of vitamin B12, and affect the stomach's ability to destroy the harmful bacteria, viruses and fungi everyone swallows from time to time.

According to Smith, the LINX device can be installed in around a half hour and, if necessary, removed even faster, leaving the esophagus in its original state.

"There have been very few side effects," he said. "(A device) was removed from a lady who, unfortunately, had undiagnosed schizophrenia, and she thought the devise was causing her kneecaps and her shoulder blades to flap. (The research team) did talk her into leaving (the device) in for a year. When they tested her, her reflux was gone, and they took the LINX out in about 8 or 9 minutes. Unfortunately, her kneecaps continued to flap.

"The point is that it's easy to take out. You don't burn any bridges."

Turner said she has suffered from acid reflux since the early 1990s. She said on occasion she would be forced to prop herself with pillows when she slept, to prevent the acid from surging up her esophagus and burning her lungs.

"I came to see Dr. Smith in April, right after this had been approved, and he asked me, 'How would you like to eat normally and go through less pain and down time'?" she said. "So I said, 'Let's do it.'"