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When the Physician Becomes the Patient
Swedish Medical Center’s surgeon gives personal credibility to GERD procedure
It’s a claim we’ve all heard before: doctors are the most stubborn of patients. The rationale is obvious – they want the care only they themselves can give. In the case of Dr. Reginald Bell, stomach and esophagus surgeon at Swedish Medical Center, it took some time to convince the begrudged physician-turned-patient of the best way to relieve his ailment.
Like twenty million other Americans, Dr. Bell was a sufferer of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) for over ten years.
GERD, a chronic, progressive disease stemming from a weak lower esophagus, allows acid and bile to reflux from the stomach into the throat. A range of symptoms can then occur from heartburn, chest pain, hoarseness, to asthma. Even more frightening, if left untreated, GERD increases the risk of esophageal cancer.
Patients with GERD are often treated with medications. Over the counter pills provided short-term relief while stronger medications provided long-term relief – albeit, a return of the symptoms. Even the “newer” medications used for GERD – proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) – are well over 20 years old.
With no other treatment, Dr. Bell fell right in line with the hundreds of patients he saw each year – he relied on medications for his symptoms. While the possible side effects of long-term medication usage are vast, the risk of cancer is a greater concern for Dr. Bell. "Medications simply cover up the symptoms and do very little to decrease the potential for cancer.”
But in 2012, a new procedure was introduced that would change the face of GERD treatment.
“I can look at patients and say, ‘I have done this myself.’ I’m not just speaking based on published reports – it’s my own experience and belief.”
The LINX® reflux management system provides permanent relief in an outpatient procedure done in under an hour. A small magnetic necklace is fitted at the base of the esophagus and, when touching, holds the valve between the throat and the stomach closed. When a patient swallows, enough pressure is generated to open the necklace, letting the food through, and then the magnets click back together to hold the valve shut – effectively eliminating bile reflux. It is currently the only approved safe and effective device for GERD treatment by the FDA.
Dr. Bell began performing the procedure on his GERD patients. But as a surgeon who has a hard time trusting other surgeons, he stayed the medications course himself. His symptoms progressively worsened – he coughed constantly at night and had difficulty clearing his throat.
Swedish’s surgeon performed roughly 50 initial LINX® operations all with the same results – his patients saw immediate improvement on their quality of life without dependence on medications. Finally, the time came to swallow his stubbornness.
“The volume of patients who were happy with their outcomes gave me the reinforcement I needed,” Dr. Bell said. “If I kept talking about how good this procedure was, I needed to give it a try myself.”
Research is the only way for a procedure to gain legitimacy in the opinion of physicians – and the case was no different as Dr. Bell sought out a surgeon to perform his own operation.
At last, Dr. Bell agreed to be a part of a clinical trial and flew to California for the procedure. The post-approval FDA trial aims to prove the results in the community are the same that were published get original FDA approval.
One community patient can certainly vouch for the validity of the LINX® procedure.
“I’m thrilled. It’s really made a big difference. The uncomfortable feeling of bloating and nausea…it’s gone,” said Dr. Bell. On medications, concessions to lifestyle have to be made. But with the surgery, Dr. Bell can live his life without the hovering GERD disease. His choices in food and exercise are no longer impacted.
His future patients can be sure of Dr. Bell’s quite personal research into the procedure. He now does over 250 LINX® operations per year.