Innovative Surgery Changes Patient's Life

“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had issues. As a teen, when I went out for pizza with friends, they’d go home full and I’d go home with heartburn,” said Francis Kilcoyne of Longmeadow. “I’d freak out if I had to eat after 6 p.m. Most of the time I would wake up in the middle of the night startled by the feel of vomit coming up,” says Francis.

Gerd Affects Millions

Eventually diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), Francis lived with the problem into his sixties. GERD – which affects some 60 million Americans – occurs when the muscle located at the end of your esophagus weakens over time. As a result, contents from the stomach, including acid or bile and even food, leak back or “reflux” into the esophagus causing a burning feeling in the chest or throat called heartburn.

In addition to heartburn, GERD can cause problems swallowing as well as a dry cough, bad breath, nausea and/or vomiting, and snoring.

Symptoms Worsen

As his symptoms began to worsen, Francis took matters into his own hands.

“I began searching the web for doctors who might be able to help me. Dr. John Romanelli’s name came up on the Baystate Health website and there was something about him. He seemed cool and progressive,” he says.

Francis made an appointment and Dr. Romanelli told him about two surgical options that offer help when medications fail. One was fundoplication, the other was a newer procedure he was recently trained in called the LINX procedure.

Benefits of LINX

Regarded by some medical professionals as the next generation of anti-reflux treatment, the LINX System – performed laparoscopically – involves placing a flexible ring of small magnets encapsulated in titanium beads which are held together on a titanium wire around the lower esophageal sphincter. When food or liquid is swallowed, the ring opens to allow the contents to pass safely through the sphincter, and closes once it is emptied into the stomach. The rings are not so tight, however, that they prevent a person from belching or safely vomiting.

“I looked up fundoplication on the web and when I saw what it involved I said to myself, ‘There is no way I’m going to have part of my stomach pulled up around my esophagus.’ Being in the health care field, I didn’t want to put my body through more than I had to,” says Francis, who is a retired occupational therapist.

Although it took time for his insurer to agree to cover the procedure, when they did Francis happily became Dr. Romanelli’s first patient to receive the LINX system.

LINX Procedure is Safe and Effective

The FDA approved the LINX system in March 2012 for GERD patients who have not benefited from other treatment.

“New data in a seven-year follow-up study has been published which further corroborates results from a five-year study released in 2015 after following patients implanted with the LINX device,” says Dr. Romanelli.

Those results deemed the LINX procedure safe and effective for patients with surgeons encountering little to no operative complications or side effects for the patient. Furthermore, it substantially reduced acid leaking into the esophagus and resulting heartburn, reflux symptoms improved, and some 85 percent of the participants stopped taking their daily medications.

“It didn’t worry me at all to be Dr. Romanelli’s first patient. I knew he had trained in the procedure and I had full confidence in him,” says Francis.

The surgery took about 50 minutes and when it was over, Francis says he “noticed a difference right away."

“My GERD was gone and I could swallow without any difficulty. All these years, I never knew what it felt like to be healthy."