New surgeries at Niagara Falls Memorial provide relief to patients suffering severe gastric issues



NFMMC rapidly becoming Western New York
center of excellence for surgical gastric procedures


Kevin Howey of Niagara Falls is a snack food merchandiser who for the past five years couldn’t eat the goods he delivered – or much else, for that matter – because he suffered from a debilitating disease called gastroparesis.


“At times I couldn’t eat anything for days,” said the 28-year-old Howey. “I suffered frequent nausea and pain and I was constantly in the emergency room.”


That all changed last month when Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center surgeon Dr. Bala Thatigotla implanted a gastric electrical stimulator, also called a gastric pacemaker, in Howey’s abdomen.


“I’m feeling 100 percent better,” Howey says now. “This is best I’ve been in a long time.”


Until now, patients had to travel to the Cleveland Clinic to receive this life-changing procedure.  Manufactured by Medtronic, the gastric pacemaker transmits mild electrical pulses that encourage the stomach to contract, which helps relieve nausea and vomiting.


In Kevin’s case, the implant was done laparoscopically. Two days later he was home.


Literally translated, gastroparesis means stomach paralysis. During digestion, a healthy stomach contracts about three times a minute to empty itself of food and liquid. With gastroparesis, those contractions are less frequent and the stomach fails to empty as it should.


According to the National Institutes of Health, about five million Americans are afflicted by this condition. Those patients often find chronic nausea, vomiting, abdominal bloating and pain take control of their lives.


Once diagnosed, they are first treated with medication and a controlled diet, usually by a gastroenterologist.


“But for Kevin and many patients like him, those treatments are not effective,” said Dr. Bala. “When we explored the possibility of implanting a gastric pacemaker for such patients, we discovered the nearest medical center doing the procedure was the Cleveland Clinic and they had a backlog of patients waiting to have it done.”


That’s when Memorial and Dr. Bala, along with fellow Memorial surgeon Dr. Vikram Vattipally decided to add the minimally invasive procedure to their surgical offerings.


Memorial President & CEO Joseph A. Ruffolo said the decision was an easy one to make given the long distance patients had to travel to have it done and the quality of the surgeons available to perform it in Niagara Falls.


“Dr. Bala completed his fellowship in Advanced Laparoscopic Surgery/Bariatric Surgery at the highly regarded Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville while Dr. Vattipally completed his fellowship in the same specialty at Penn State University’s Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Both of them have demonstrated uncommon skill in advanced surgical procedures since joining our staff,” Ruffolo said.


Ruffolo noted that Memorial surgeons also are implementing a second new procedure, one that will provide relief to patients suffering chronic acid reflux or GERD, an acronym for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. It’s called the LINX procedure.


The LINX System is a small flexible band of interlinked titanium beads with magnetic cores that is placed laparoscopically around the esophagus just above the stomach. The magnetic attraction between the beads helps the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) resist opening to gastric pressures.


“LINX allows food and liquid to pass normally into the stomach. The magnetic bond closes the LES immediately after swallowing, which prevents reflux from the stomach from entering the esophagus,” Dr. Bala said.


The next nearest LINX System providers are in Pittsburgh and Cleveland, he noted.


“This is another opportunity for us to meet a significant regional need,” Dr. Bala said.


For more information about these procedures, call (716) 278-4400.


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