Imagine being served your favorite meal, and when you begin to eat, the food gets stuck going down your throat. That uncomfortable and incredibly unnerving feeling is something that Michael Familio has lived with since he was a child. For most people, eating is a simple pleasure, but for the 45-year-old Bethpage native, it became a stressful ordeal.
“It would be nerve-wracking, because you want to enjoy your food, and I couldn’t eat a meal without worrying if it would go down or not. I suffered from difficulty swallowing, acid reflux, burning, halitosis and sometimes regurgitation, all through my teenage and adult years,” said Mr. Familio. “I had been taking medication for my symptoms, but when my sleep patterns started to get worse from the coughing, I knew I had to do something more.”
He sought out David Gutman, MD, gastroenterologist, director of the Northwell Reflux Center at Plainview Hospital.
“Dr. Gutman told me: ‘You shouldn’t be suffering like this,’ said Mr. Familio. “And that let me know that he was concerned.”
“Michael has had a long and severe history of gastroesophageal reflux disease [GERD], allergies and asthma,” explained Dr. Gutman. “Many patients who fail to improve completely with strong acid-inhibiting medications called proton-pump inhibitors [PPIs], such as the ‘Purple Pill,’ wind up on progressively higher doses of medications or more pills per day without significant benefit. Serious symptoms such as food getting stuck, waking up during the night with heartburn or choking, chest pain, wheezing or coughing after eating are also important indicators that you should see a reflux specialist.”
And that’s exactly what Mr. Familio did. But Dr. Gutman wasn’t the only doctor caring for him. Jerzy Macura, MD, gastrointestinal surgeon and co- director of the Northwell Reflux Center at Plainview Hospital, was also on his medical team.
“Michael had a hiatal hernia. It was causing severe acid reflux, which is sometimes very debilitating, as it was in his case. Surgery is one of the options,” said Dr. Macura, “especially for people who do not respond to medications, or who take medications for years, people who have other symptoms related to reflux such as asthma, precancerous cells in the esophagus or swallowing difficulties. I repaired his hernia and did a posterior fundoplication. This raises the pressure of the so-called lower esophageal sphincter, eliminating reflux. His operation was done laparoscopically. It required five small cuts, so the pain was really minimal.”
Mr. Familio’s surgery was performed in June 2018 at Plainview Hospital. He was in the hospital for three days and put on a liquid and soft foods diet for one month. The results have been life changing.
“As soon as I woke up in the hospital after the surgery, I knew I felt better. It was amazing,” Mr. Familio said with a huge smile on his face. “When Dr. Macura came to check on me, I had to tell him that I couldn’t believe, after years of suffering from acid reflux, it was really gone.”
“Surgery will almost always eliminate symptoms,” said Dr. Macura.
Mr. Familio no longer needs to take medication for his acid reflux because he doesn’t have the condition now.
“I could never drink orange juice or eat pizza,” he said. “For many years I just avoided them, but now I can indulge in both, symptom free. I can eat without worrying. I have my quality of life back.”