Health & Wellness

There's a Surgical Fix For Severe Heartburn, Doctors Say

Imagine having heartburn so severe, you get sick multiple times a day. That’s what life was like for a woman in northwest Indiana. After years of being misdiagnosed, she has finally gotten the answers and the relief she’s been searching for.

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Severe heartburn can cause discomfort in many adults. In cases where acid reflux is caused by a hiatal hernia, doctors at RUSH University Medical Center say there may be a surgical fix.

“There's about 15 to 20% of the population that have hiatal hernias. Over the age of 50, that number skyrockets, to 55 to 60% of the population,” said Dr. Nicole Geissen, a thoracic surgeon at RUSH.

“Oftentimes, they're asymptomatic, meaning they don't have any symptoms from the hernia. However, the larger they get, they usually have symptoms associated,” Dr. Geissen said.

That’s what happened in Darlene Gore’s case.

Gore, 75, of Merrillville, Indiana, would carry antacids and a toothbrush everywhere she went for decades. She suffered from GERD, gastroesophageal reflux disease, or severe heartburn that caused her to vomit daily.

“It was horrendous. I mean, it was like somebody poured acid down my throat,” Gore said.

Then she started experiencing other symptoms that brought her to see a pulmonologist at Franciscan Health.

“She actually presented to a pulmonologist with our Franciscan partners, because she was having chronic cough and shortness of breath,” said Dr. Geissen.

“He ordered a CAT scan in order to help find out what was wrong with her,” Geissen said.

When that CAT scan revealed Gore had a hiatal hernia, with the gap in her diaphragm wide enough that her stomach had moved from her belly up into the chest cavity, the pulmonologist recommended she see Dr. Geissen.

Dr. Geissen explained that she could repair the gap through a minimally invasive, robotic surgery.

“The main goal of the operation is a return to normal anatomy. So we pull the stomach back into the belly where it belongs. And then we close that space back to the size that it's supposed to be,” Dr. Geissen said.

In the six months since Gore had the surgery in August 2022, she has not vomited once.

“Oh, I feel fantastic. I get to eat, you know, like pizza and popcorn,” Gore said. “It’s the best thing that ever happened to me, I mean, the best thing.”

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