WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) – When swallowed food and water head to your stomach, you don’t expect pain or other problems. But some people suffer from a condition that’s worse than acid reflux and requires more than a pill. 

The condition is called achalasia. It’s when muscles in the lower esophagus fail to relax preventing food from passing into the stomach. A Kingston man who suffered for nearly a year with achalasia finally got the relief he was seeking thanks to a relatively new procedure as Eyewitness News Healthbeat Reporter Mark Hiller explains.

“I couldn’t sleep at night. I couldn’t eat and you can only go so long like that.” Dave Usavage was living an eight month long nightmare before meeting Commonwealth Health Gastroenterologist Aman Ali, MD. “I would eat something and I would have to vomit I mean within a half-hour.”

Dave’s difficulty eating showed up on the scale. “I lost 23 pounds.” Just lying down to rest was a problem. “I’d be coughing and I mean horrendously.”

Dave didn’t realize he was suffering from achalasia which is a swallowing disorder that results from the esophageal sphincter muscle unable to open properly. Dr. Ali explained, “When the food comes in it hits, kind of you know, against the wall and sits there and cannot go down into the stomach.”

The condition causes concerns besides malnutrition and dehydration. “It continues to regurgitate and goes back into the windpipe and can cause what we call aspiration pneumonia,” said Dr. Ali.

Instead of traditional laparascopic surgery, Dr. Ali performed on Dave what’s called peroral endoscopic myotomy or POEM for short. Dr. Ali said, “Surgeons go from outside in. We go from inside and stay inside traditionally.”

Instead of cutting skin or muscle, an endoscope goes through the patient’s mouth and down the esophagus then divides the esophageal muscles and opens the gateway to the stomach. “People have done remarkably well. Much better than the surgery would have,” said Dr. Ali.

Dave underwent the procedure last October. His relief swallowing food was instantaneous. “Green Jello never tasted so good in my life. Nor did that Sprite.”

Thanks to POEM, Dave’s quality of life is now restored. Looking back on the months that have passed since the procedure he said, “It was just you drank it. You ate it and you went ‘this is the way life’s supposed to be’.” Dave celebrated two weeks after undergoing POEM by enjoying a lobster dinner. 

Achalasia is rather uncommon. It affects only about one in 100,000 people.