Penny Yuncker - Shepherd, MI
"Going from my severity to being completely cured is amazing."
Acid Reflux No Longer Controls Her Life after new Innovative LINX Procedure
Penny Yuncker's condition was far worse than just heartburn. The 52-year-old had long struggled with symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). In the past two years or so, however, Yuncker's acid reflux had become more painful and more frequent. Her stomach developed ulcers from the acidic environment. She had difficulty sleeping and had headaches in addition to the pain in her chest and throat. The irritation would often cause her to start coughing, and sometimes even to vomit. "I was literally crying because I was in so much pain."
Yuncker tried everything she could to manage the symptoms of the reflux. "I would literally drink a gallon of milk at a time," she says. She took four doses of over-the-counter antacid every day - one before each meal and one before going to bed.
However, unable to control it, the disease started eating away at Yuncker's daily life. She wanted to go out to dinner with her husband and adult children from time to time, but found herself increasingly afraid to go, out of fear of vomiting in public.
After reaching out for help, Yuncker's family doctor referred her to General Surgeon Jeffrey Smith, M.D. Dr. Smith told Yuncker about a brand-new medical device which could effectively keep the acid from leaving her stomach.
The LINX® Reflux Management System is a stretchable ring of titanium magnets. Not much larger around than a quarter, the device fits around the base of the esophagus, resting just above the entrance into the stomach. It squeezes the esophagus closed to keep stomach acid from escaping but can stretch to allow food to pass through.
The device and the procedure to implant it were so new that it had not been performed at MidMichigan yet. Because of this, Yuncker's doctors did their due diligence. Yuncker spent seven months undergoing tests and examinations to make sure she was an ideal candidate for the procedure. Once they were certain everything was fine, Yuncker was given the clear to have the surgery. "I insisted I was the first to receive the LINX, and I was," she says.
On the day of Yuncker's procedure, everything went smoothly. "When I came out of surgery, I was anticipating pain from eating," she says, "but there was nothing." She was sent home with pain medications but did not take any – not even Tylenol. The tape on her incision wore off in three days and she was left with just a ¾" scar on her abdomen.
Dr. Smith, who performed the procedure, provided excellent care to Yuncker. "He was like my best friend," she says. She was also impressed by the doctor who assisted the operation, who used the scope to take photos of her internal organs. "He took six different pictures of my insides and gave them to us!" she says. "The staff are all blue ribbons."
Yuncker's recovery went quickly with no problems. She had a downtime of about two weeks with some weight lifting restrictions, during which she took things easy. "I was probably more cautious than I needed to be because I do lift things at work," she says. She also learned how to chew her food thoroughly into small pieces so it can be swallowed easily.
Ever since the procedure, Yuncker has been amazed at how much she is able to do now. "It has literally changed my life," she says. "I have no problems eating anything now." Before, she had to put up with bland food all the time, but now can eat anything, including spicy tacos and jalapeño peppers. She can sleep well again and hasn't had any troubles from the headaches she used to get.
Best of all, Yuncker can enjoy meals out with her family again. "There's no coughing, no crying, no nothing," she says. In the time that she's had the LINX, Yuncker says she has only vomited once from not chewing her food thoroughly enough. That alleviated her husband's fears that she wouldn't be able to vomit with the LINX, which happens with the other reconstructive surgery for GERD treatment.
Yuncker has been so pleased with her new lease on life that she can't help spreading the word about LINX. She has even taken pamphlets on the new device to work to pass out to her colleagues. "Going from my severity to being completely cured is amazing," she says. "It was like somebody flipped a switch."
Those who would like additional information about the LINX Reflux Management System may visit www.midmichigan.org/linx or call (989) 463-6699.
LINX® is a registered trademark of Johnson & Johnson