For years, gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, had a chokehold on Bernice Montefusco of Wallingford and Thomas P. Barrett of Southington.
The pain and complications disrupted their daily lives and even adversely affected their loved ones. Barrett said he had no interest in his family or even his granddaughter because he was continually plagued by a burning in his esophagus and regurgitation of acid. It was especially bad when he bent over to pick up an item and when he was trying to sleep – which sometimes was impossible.
“I had a sick feeling most of the time that lingered,” he said. “My throat was on fire, and I couldn’t eat or drink. I was tired most of the time. I couldn’t do anything – it tied up my life.”
For more than three years, he lived with the debilitating condition. No medication helped.
Montefusco’s acid reflux caused extreme heaviness in her chest, which she endured for 20 years.
“I couldn’t catch my breath,” she said. “My lungs and heart were checked out and everything was fine. But they couldn’t figure it out.”
She went from physician to physician and tried a chiropractor and naturopath. But no one pinpointed the cause. Through the years, she struggled with pulmonary complications including chest spasms, a chronic cough and pneumonia.
“I just wanted an explanation,” she said. “I knew that once it was pinpointed someone could help me.”
Montefusco and Barrett were both referred to Dr. Kenneth Schwartz, who performs minimally invasive surgery with Hartford HealthCare Medical Group at MidState Medical Center. Testing revealed that they each had hiatal hernias, the protrusion of part of the stomach into the chest.
Schwartz recommended fundoplication, a minor surgical procedure that uses a piece of the stomach to wrap around the lower esophagus to tighten it, preventing stomach acid from rising and causing acid reflux. Both patients experienced relief almost immediately.
“Approximately 90 percent of patients report complete resolution of their reflux symptoms and no longer have a need for medication,” Schwartz said. “In a study that followed patients five years after surgery, the patients reported fewer heartburn and belching episodes, and generally had better feelings of health and vitality.”
Montefusco said she has resumed square dancing and biking, and is able to do more with her granddaughter.
“It’s wonderful,” she said. “I recommend this to anyone. I’m so grateful they figured it out,” she said. “Every day is a gift from God.”
Barrett first had his gallbladder removed, which brought some relief. But it was the esophageal surgery in June that cured him.
“I have had no pain,” he said. “I’m my normal self and not taking medications. I’m back to enjoying my family. I highly recommend it.”