For more than a decade, Tom Wurm had been taking prescription medicine for his acid reflux. Tom routinely scheduled physicals with his hometown provider in Manitowoc, but he felt like he had control of his symptoms, so he never questioned it.
But around a year and a half ago, Tom’s symptoms were getting much worse.
“I experienced painful burning when I would lay down to sleep,” he said, “bile would move out of my stomach and into my esophagus.” The medication he had been using didn’t seem to help. Sometimes his symptoms were so strong that it caused him to vomit. He also experienced pain in his chest while sitting up. “A couple of times, I really felt like I was having a heart attack.”
With the support of his wife Tracie, Tom decided to seek medical attention.
He briefly considered a LINX procedure with his local provider, which is a band of magnets placed inside the esophagus to create a mechanical sphincter—a family member who works at Door County Medical Center (DCMC), recommended he try a more permanent procedure. “She spoke very highly about the hospital so I scheduled an appointment.”
After initial tests at Door County Medical Center Heartburn and Reflux Center, which included a BRAVO monitor to gauge the severity of his acid reflux, plus the results of his esophagram, Tom’s greatest fear became reality: he not only had a hiatal hernia, which is a tear in the diaphragm causing the stomach to bulge upward, but he also had a condition called Barrett’s esophagus, a complication of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).
“With Barrett’s, my stomach had essentially grown into my esophagus,” explained Tom. “It also had the potential to cause cancer.”
Because of these two diagnoses, DCMC surgeon Dr. St. Jean and his team recommended Tom undergo a robotic-assisted laparoscopic Nissen fundoplication. A Nissen fundoplication strengthens the valve between the stomach and esophagus restoring the natural, physiologic anatomy to prevent GERD. The laparoscopic approach also allowed Tom to have his hiatal hernia repaired.
Ahead of the surgery, Dr. St. Jean made an agreement with Tom that he would need to lose at least 15 pounds in order to be wholly successful. “One of the things that lead to acid reflux is belly fat,” says Tom, “and that extra weight just pushes on your stomach.”
In May of 2019, Tom had an outpatient robotic-assisted laparoscopic Nissen procedure with incredible results.
“I no longer worry about lying down and going to sleep. I can sleep through the night and not be awakened by my stomach pain or acid reflux,” he said, “and Tracie sleeps better without me bouncing around in bed coughing.”
Tom also exceeded his weight loss goal and lost 30 pounds. “I am more careful about how much I eat and in what combinations, but I still enjoy myself. A wonderful part of my life is family gatherings, which includes a lot of different foods.” He says prior to surgery, those big family gatherings came at a cost. “I always suffered for it afterward, always.”
More than 9 months after his laparoscopic Nissen procedure, Tom recommends anyone experiencing acid reflux issues to visit the Heartburn and Reflux Center at DCMC. “The fact of the matter is I haven’t taken a prescription drug for my stomach since the surgery. I’ve taken antacid a few times, but I think everyone does that on occasion. I have not had a stomach problem since,” shared Tom. “The whole team was very respectful and accommodating; they took care of me and made sure I was comfortable. Most importantly, they cured my illness.”