Christopher Matzinger, an avid fitness enthusiast and Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) police officer, began having trouble breathing during his workouts and became concerned. “It’s easy to take something routine like breathing for granted, until you can’t do it,” says Matzinger, 39, who consulted with his general practitioner and was diagnosed with asthma. He then began having daily sore throats which he attributed to allergies but when he began to gag and throw up on a regular basis, he knew something else was wrong.
Inhalers, allergy shots, and multiple medications failed to provide Matzinger with any relief, so he researched his symptoms and advocated for several diagnostic tests. Two endoscopies confirmed he had silent acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This condition, which affects approximately 1 in 5 people in the United States, occurs when stomach acid flows back up into the esophagus causing a sore throat, chest pain, and other symptoms. Following his diagnosis, Matzinger turned to NYU Winthrop Hospital, home of Long Island’s first and only GERD center, for help.
“As leaders in the fields of surgery and gastroenterology, we wanted to create a center where patients could benefit from our collaborative approach to care, and receive a personalized care plan to ensure optimal results,” says Collin E. Brathwaite, MD, chairman of the Department of Surgery at NYU Winthrop Hospital.
This collaboration between the hospital’s gastrointestinal and surgical experts is designed to treat patients with GERD using the newest approaches. The center includes a team of highly trained specialists who are dedicated to finding an accurate diagnosis and treatment.
Matzinger underwent further diagnostic testing including a high-resolution esophageal manometry which is used to assess the force and coordination of the esophagus muscles as they move food to the stomach.
“This test is done prior to antireflux surgery to make sure patients don’t have a swallowing disorder known as achalasia, which GERD surgery can’t help,” explains Bhawna Halwan, MD, director of the Center of Gastrointestinal Motility at NYU Winthrop.
In addition, Matzinger had his esophageal acidity levels measured with the Bravo® pH monitoring system. A wireless capsule the size of a gel cap was attached to the inside of his esophagus, and he was fitted with a small recording device to wear for 48 hours to monitor his pH levels.
“It is important for patients to have access to comprehensive diagnostic testing, such as the tests offered at NYU Winthrop, in order to fully assess the severity of their condition, and determine which therapy is best,” says Dr. Halwan.
Christopher had a positive pH test and demonstrated good muscle strength of the esophagus which made him a candidate for the Linx® Reflux Management System. This relatively new laparoscopic procedure places a small, ring-like, flexible band of magnetic beads enclosed in titanium around the esophagus just above the stomach. The magnetic attraction helps keep the lower esophageal sphincter closed, preventing stomach acid from backing up into the esophagus.
“The magnets open up to enable food to pass through, and close after swallowing to prevent anything from coming back up into the esophagus,” describes Dr. Brathwaite. “Patients usually go home the very same day with minor discomfort, and are back to eating regular foods within a day or two.”
NYU Winthrop was the first hospital in Nassau County to perform the minimally invasive Linx® procedure. “Linx® is a promising treatment alternative for patients with GERD who often rely on over-the-counter medications, and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) for relief,” says Dr. Brathwaite. “Not only does long-term use of PPIs greatly increase one’s risk for esophageal cancer, recent FDA safety notices point to other potential risks including increased risk of fractures, dementia, and heart attack to name just a few.”
Following his surgery, Matzinger went back to training in the gym along with physical therapy for his esophagus muscles, and is very grateful for the care that he received at NYU Winthrop. “Finding the right doctors who listened to me, and guided me in the right direction was key,” he says. “There’s no reason for anyone to suffer, there is help.”