Puyallup surgeon provides new treatment for acid reflux

of the HeraldMarch 5, 2014 

Dr. Robert Wright, a leading Puget Sound surgeon in the area of gastroesophageal reflux disease, has become one of the first doctors in the United States to provide LINX, an FDA-approved device, for the treatment of GERD.

“This is the first technological breakthrough in 50 years in reflux surgery,” Wright said. “It’s an elegant way of using the physics of magnetic force to prevent reflux and still allow normal swallowing.”

Wright will offer LINX at his Meridian Surgery Center in Puyallup, an outpatient surgery facility.

The device, which was approved by the FDA last year, resembles a small bracelet of tiny magnetic beads, according to a report from Wright’s office. It’s placed at the base of the esophagus during laparoscopic surgery to act as support for a weak lower esophageal sphincter just above the stomach.

The LINX closes the valve and prevents stomach acid from entering the esophagus, according to the report.

“Traditionally, we have just blocked the acid secretion or done an operation to repair the valve,” Wright said. “(LINX) has been done worldwide in about 1,500 patients on a trial basis. We’re getting results past three years that are showing excellent control of acid reflux and a real low-rate of re-operation. It’s very promising technology.”

Wright said the first LINX operation in Pierce County was done at Meridian Surgery Center last November. The operation has so far produced no allergic reactions in patients, he said.

“It brings more than 90 percent of satisfaction among patients in terms of controlling acid reflux, getting off medication and being able to swallow normally,” Wright said. “One of the exciting things is that it’s a pretty minimally invasive operation. It can be readily done in an outpatient surgery center, so we can control the costs of the operation.

“Because it’s outpatient surgery, people can be back in their own bed the night after surgery,” he added.

Wright said patients who may be candidates for the treatment should have well-demonstrated acid reflux, normal swallowing capacity and no pre-cancerous degeneration of the esophagus.

“Most patients are unaware of its presence,” Wright said. “Only 1 percent end up having it removed because they’re having problems with nausea or difficulty swallowing.”

For some, the only roadblock to accessing the technology is with insurance.

“It’s a developmental thing in Washington state,” Wright said. “We’re behind the curve in Washington state in terms of understanding this new technology and its acceptance by the insurance providers.”

Wright said about more than 30 LINX surgeries have been performed so far in Washington state, and a number of patients are waiting for approval from their insurance companies.

Meanwhile, federal Medicare has given LINX its own billing code. However, it’s only allowing LINX in a hospital setting, not outpatient facilities such as Meridian Surgery Center.

Reporter Andrew Fickes can be reached at 253-552-7001 or by email at andrew.fickes@puyallupherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @herald_andrew.

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