Simple surgery makes night and day difference
For almost 50 years, Debra Hulsey of Porterville suffered from an upset stomach.
"It started when I was a child. I suffered a lot. I always had an upset stomach and was always vomiting," Debra said. "Thirty years ago I was told that there was nothing that could be done for it. It got worse and worse. I started taking everything and nothing worked."
Hulsey also ended up in the hospital several times.
"It got to the point where I could not sleep at night. I had to sleep sitting up," Debra said. "I was really miserable — I constantly had acid in my throat and was constantly throwing up. It was really bad."
Each medical or hospital visit was always written off as gastritis, said her husband, Ron Hulsey. But he had a brother being treated for another problem by Dr. Gaurang Pandya — and while in the lobby, a pamphlet caught his eye.
"I saw that pamphlet and I convinced her to get tested," Ron said.
It was the best decision she ever made, Debra said.
"I was taking double medicines — and eating Tums like they were candies," Debra said. "It got to the point where it just wasn't helping any more. My whole throat was on fire — the awfullest burning. I was suffering. I was up every night at 1 a.m. with acid and vomiting."
But that all changed overnight. After being tested for, and having, a noninvasive surgery, Debra's life turned around.
"I'm so happy now. I'm great. It was instant relief. I can eat now. I can sleep now," Debra said. "Now I want everyone to know. There are so many people out there like I was — and I want them to know about this."
Debra referred to a surgery Dr. Pandya performed.
Dr. Pandya has a total disease management center and has been doing anti-reflux disease management and surgeries for more than 10 years.
"The community needs to know that Porterville may be small but has the ability to provide state-of-the-art services that are comparable, or even better, than big-city centers," said Ela Pandya, office manager. "I'm not saying UCLA, USC or Stanford is bad. They all can do it — but its inconvenient."
Ela said she knows of one person who lost her job because of needing to take so much time off to travel to UCLA Medical Center — for the initial consul, the testing, the lab studies, the 24-hour test, for test results, to meet with the surgeon prior to surgery, the surgery, and the follow up visits.
Dr. Pandya has been performing the surgery for 10 to 15 years and calls the procedure revolutionary — it can be done through a tube inserted down the esophagus into the stomach.
"The problem is that the valve between the esophagus and the stomach is weak," he said. "The valve is the gatekeeper and is responsible for opening and closing the gate. It should allow food down, and close. But when it doesn't, [gastric] acids go back and forth."
The acid movement results in people's quality of life deteriorating, Dr. Pandya said, resulting in people not being able to lay down at night, experiencing choking feelings, burning the lining along the esophagus, and causing other complications.
"The pharmaceutical industry came up with this idea of creating a medication that would lower the level of acid in one's stomach," Dr. Pandya said. "There are a lot of medicines out there but they only work for 24 hours. Once the medicine is gone, you are back to square one."
However, if the lower esophageal valve were to be repaired surgically, the patients could stop taking medications on a regular basis — medications that cost anywhere from $200 to $400 a month for the more serious patients.
Dr. Pandya's practice includes an esophageal lab in his office. And after testing patients, he will only select those who would make good candidates for the surgery, which is performed at Sierra View District Hospital, he said.
"Forty percent of the population have occasional symptoms. They'll take an antacid and they're fine. But 10 percent have serial symptoms — more than once a week they will wake up with problems, or have to elevate their heads with pillows at night or sleep sitting up. These [people] are the most dependent on medications. These are the people we can help," Dr. Pandya said. "Considering there are 50,000 people in Porterville, I would say there are 5,000 people here who can benefit from this and stop taking medicines. Pharmaceutical companies try to convince the people they can cure them. But there's no cure. The problems always return. And if they continue with the medicines, there is proof that there is an elevated chance of developing osteoporosis prematurely. The medications also interfere with [blood thinners such as] Plavix and those people can suffer from heart attacks."
An approximate 10 to 15 percent of all adults suffer from GERD — gastroesophageal reflux disease — or acid reflux. And as a result suffer from various symptoms, including heartburn, regurgitation, painful swallowing, nausea, vomiting, chronic cough, laryngitis, dental erosion and sinusitis.
"It's up to the patient. If they want to take drugs for the rest of their life, that's up to them. But if they don't, there's options," Dr. Pandya said. "Sierra View is highly trained in this. The service is not offered anywhere else from Bakersfield to Fresno."
With TIF, Transoral Incisionless Fundoplication — and Laporoscopic Nisan Fundoplication — everything is done internally. There is no surgical cut. The procedure is almost painless and healing is fast.
Tom Salas of Porterville said he can vouch for that.
After a year of taking numerous medications for GERD, he finally heard of Dr. Pandya.
"I think I tried every medicine out there for more than a year. Nothing worked. I used to cough all the time and it kept my family awake. I couldn't sleep," Salas said. "Then I walked into the office to make an appointment — and maybe ask the nurses some questions. But he took me right in and explained everything. I was amazed. He explained everything at my level. He and his office staff were great with me. "
After all the testing, Salas said he talked to his family and family doctor and decided on the surgery, and said he was impressed by the doctor's visits and calls.
"He didn't forget me. He came in and talked to me before the surgery, after the surgery, and then followed up with me after, even calling me a month later to see how I was doing. It was very impressive," Salas said. "I am 100-percent better now. It is a night and day difference. If there is someone out there who is suffering from this and who is taking a lot of medicines, I would say, ‘Go see him. Talk to him.' He will go over everything with you and if you don't understand, he breaks it down until you do. I'm sure it will be the best decision you ever make. The only thing I regret is not having found him sooner."
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Contact Esther Avila at 784-5000, Ext. 1045, or email@example.com
Author: ESTHER AVILA