Rare condition may lead to difficulty swallowing

Achalasia causes a spasm in the esophagus, preventing food from reaching the stomach. A peroral endoscopic myotomy surgical treatment can help.

WESTON, Fla. – About four years ago, 46-year-old Damian Figueroa Hendrix started noticing a burning sensation when he ate and thought it was just acid reflux.

“After a while it started to become worse with me having an issue swallowing food and the food would not, it would just get stuck in this area,” he said. “It actually came to a point where I couldn’t drink water. The water would get stuck in that area, as well.”

At that point, he turned to specialists for answers and was diagnosed with a condition called Achalasia, which causes a spasm in the esophagus, preventing food from reaching the stomach.

“So sometimes their entire meal just sits inside of the esophagus and then they can regurgitate. They can regurgitate after eating, they can regurgitate when lying down and in its most severe stages, they can lose significant weight,” said Dr. Tolga Erim, a gastroenterologist with Cleveland Clinic Weston.

Erim is providing patients relief through an innovation in surgical treatment called POEM.

“And it stands for peroral endoscopic myotomy. This is a procedure where we can cut the muscle of the esophagus to release that tension,” Erim said.

The procedure is done endoscopically through the mouth and patients are released after an overnight stay.

After a slow and steady recovery process, Figueroa-Hendrix is now able to eat and drink normally again.

“I can do anything I want, whenever I want and I have no hesitation when it comes to eating my food. It’s been a wonderful experience, wonderful,” he said.

Data shows that over 80 to 90% of patients have long term success following the POEM procedure.

About the Authors:

Veteran journalist Kathleen Corso is the special projects producer for Local 10 News.

Kristi Krueger has built a solid reputation as an award-winning medical reporter and effervescent anchor. She joined Local 10 in August 1993. After many years co-anchoring the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m., Kristi now co-anchors the noon newscasts, giving her more time in the evening with her family.