New, radical surgery combats rare disease

Operation: Dr Payal Saxena explains the procedure to Picton resident Jake Chilcott. Picture: Sydney Local Health District.
Operation: Dr Payal Saxena explains the procedure to Picton resident Jake Chilcott. Picture: Sydney Local Health District.

A new treatment performed at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital has given Picton local Jake Chilcott a new lease on life.

About two years ago the 29-year-old started to experience the first symptoms of what would later be diagnosed as a condition called achalasia.

The condition – which affects about four out of every 100,000 people – leaves sufferers unable to hold down food and water due to problems with the esophageal sphincter.

Mr Chilcott’s symptoms started about two years ago as repeated heartburn. However, his condition became progressively worse over time.

“It started with a couple of heartburn symptoms,” he said.

“Then I’d start to wake up with heartburn and I’d eat food and it wouldn’t stay down.

“I started to wake up every night not breathing because I’d inhaled my saliva.

“I wouldn’t say I was scared, but I was cautious about going to sleep. I was worried about it.”

The inability to hold down food also saw the diesel mechanic lose about 20kg.

However, an encounter with Royal Prince Alfred’s Dr Payal Saxena provided a bright light at the end of the tunnel for Mr Chilcott.

The gastroenterologist and hepatologist spent time in America learning how to perform a procedure for those suffering from achalasia.

Traditionally there were two options – one involved passing a balloon down the patient’s mouth and stretching the problematic stomach muscle, and the other was keyhole surgery.

Both options were not pleasant and required a lengthy recovery.

However, a new, third procedure – peroral endoscopic myotomy – performed by Dr Saxena and one other doctor in Australia, provided almost instant relief for Chilcott.

“It replicates the surgery (option) but is done through the mouth,” Dr Saxena said.

“The patient can go home the next day and eat later that week – and they only really need Panadol for the pain,” she said.

“It’s a procedure I learnt while doing a fellowship in the United States.

“This is a relatively new procedure whereas the other two have been performed for about 20 or 30 years.”

Dr Saxena said the success rate of the peroral endoscopic myotomy procedure had been good so far, however time would determine its effectiveness.

Mr Chilcott said the benefits of the procedure were expected to last about five years but for now, life was back to normal.

And like most other people, he was now able to enjoy a tasty meal – and also keep it down.