Case study: ‘Reflux ruined my teenage years’

Suffering is finally over for teenager thanks to LINX Reflux Management System

Kirsty Milne now has a packed social life after LINX was implanted to help with acid reflux

An 18-year-old girl who suffered from horrific acid reflux for five years, resulting in her losing a quarter of her total body weight, has finally found relief thanks to a revolutionary device that was fitted during a procedure that took less than an hour.

Kirsty Milne has sacrificed social occasions and lived in almost-constant discomfort since the age of 13, being unable to eat comfortably with her family or even go out with her friends.

With a weakened oesophageal muscle, she found all food she tried to eat would regurgitate several times, leaving her with no choice but to chew and swallow it repeatedly, in an attempt to force it to stay in her stomach. Every meal took Kirsty over two hours to digest, leaving her feeling exhausted, depressed and anxious.

LINX is a safe and effective treatment which is inserted during a laparoscopic operation and prevents stomach acid leaking upwards, and the regurgitation of food and liquids

Thankfully, relief came in the form of an innovative device called the LINX Reflux Management System, which comprises a small, flexible band of magnets enclosed in titanium beads, which is implanted around the weak sphincter just above the stomach. The magnetic attraction between the beads helps keep the weak oesophageal sphincter closed to prevent reflux. It is implanted via laparoscopic surgery and is available on the NHS and privately.

Kirsty, who is now a first-year student of modern languages at Exeter University, tried to deal with her symptoms with over-the-counter antacids. When these did not work, her parents, Robin and Heather, took her to her GP, who despite conducting numerous tests, could not ascertain what was wrong. By the time Kirsty was 17, she had undergone numerous endoscopies and lost so much weight that she was kept in hospital as the doctors were too worried to allow her to go home. Her condition also had a huge effect on her family and social life.

Kirsty said: “Since my symptoms first appeared at age 13, I have undergone too many tests to count. At first, the symptoms weren’t too bad. I would swallow food and then it would come back up undigested, so I would swallow it again. It wasn’t like being sick; it was unpleasant, but I was able to cope with it. However, it got worse over the years, to the point at which I would absolutely dread eating food. Food became my enemy.

“Despite numerous tests and various medications, nobody seemed to know what was wrong. It was affecting my family too. Food has always been a big part of our family lifestyle, but when my symptoms got really bad, mum would have to make me separate meals and take into consideration that I needed two hours after each meal to digest my food properly. It ruined my life, I was unable to go out socially, I was unable to go on days out, and holidays were a nightmare. I lost a lot of weight at a time when I should have been growing and at one point spent many nights in hospital as they were so worried about the amount of weight I had lost. I can honestly say that it ruined many years of my life.”

Her parents, having endured years of frustration when numerous medical professionals were unable to diagnose Kirsty’s condition, had subscribed to a mailing list about private medical procedures. Robin one day happened upon a piece about Dr Dhiren Nehra and the revolutionary LINX procedure. He showed the piece to Kirsty and immediately contacted St Anthony’s Hospital in Surrey to arrange a consultation.

Robin said: “It was horrific seeing Kirsty suffer for so many years. We watched her withdraw into herself, which was heartbreaking as she used to be such a bubbly, carefree and active girl. Understandably, the coping strategy Kirsty used was to withdraw socially, and while her friends were going out for meals and coffee, she would have to stay home. Eventually, the horrendous impact of the condition, along with the anxiety Kirsty had around food, resulted in her losing a quarter of her body weight. She ended up in hospital for two weeks, some of it in intensive care. As a parent, watching your child suffer – foreseeing the long-term impact on their life, their health, their career– is truly horrific.”

At Kirsty’s consultation with Dr Nehra, several tests were conducted, one which tested the strength of her oesophageal muscle. The test, called a manometry, records the contractions of the oesophageal muscle when eating or drinking. The manometry showed that Kirsty’s muscle was functioning at 0.1, the average and healthy range being 18-20.

“I was 17 when Dr Nehra diagnosed me with a weak oesophageal muscle,” said Kirsty.

The anxiety has lifted and the illness that plagued me from such a young age has finally been cured. It is a miracle

“At the time I couldn’t have the procedure until I was 18, so had to wait a little while. Somehow, I knew that it would work. I applied for university, having previously thought that I wouldn’t be able to go, knowing I would feel better by the time term began. I spent the time feeling like a light was finally shining at the end of a very long tunnel.

“The procedure went really well. I had no adverse effects from it and now I can pretty much eat what I want. My life has changed so much; I can go out with my friends from university and not worry about eating in front of anyone. The anxiety has lifted and the illness that plagued me from such a young age has finally been cured. It is a miracle.”

Dr Nehra, a general surgeon with a special interest in laparoscopic and gastrointestinal surgery at St Anthony’s Hospital, added: “Kirsty and her parents came to see me as Kirsty had suffered with reflux and regurgitation for many years. The LINX procedure was the ideal surgical option for Kirsty.

“LINX is a safe and effective treatment which is inserted during a laparoscopic operation and prevents stomach acid leaking upwards, and the regurgitation of food and liquids. It has worked extremely well for Kirsty and we are delighted to have been able to help her and essentially allow her to socialise and enjoy life again.”

In 2014, a paper titled Safety analysis of first 1000 patients treated with magnetic sphincter augmentation for gastroesophageal reflux disease, published in Diseases of the Esophagus examined the safety profile of the first 1,000 patients implanted with LINX. The results showed event rates of 0.1% complications during and immediately after surgery, 1.3% hospital readmissions and 3.4% re-operations. The study concluded that LINX is a ‘safe therapeutic option for patients with chronic, uncomplicated GORD’.

The LINX device is manufactured by Torax Medical.

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