Nina Harris was waking up in the middle of night with acid reflux symptoms. A procedure at Parkwest has restored her rest and her quality of life.

Attorney finds relief from acid reflux with help from physicians and surgery

It wasn’t a nightmare that was waking Nina Harris up. It was a lump in her throat. “I felt like I had a wet wad of cotton in my throat all the time,” says the Maryville woman. “I would wake up gasping because I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath.”

The choking sensation was just one symptom that plagued Harris before a procedure at Parkwest Medical Center this year ended her ongoing fight with acid reflux.

Enough is Enough

Harris had taken prescription medication and over-the-counter medication for years. She drank milk to try to coat her stomach, too. Her acid reflux was manageable, but after moving to the Knoxville area and dealing with increasing stress at her job, her symptoms worsened. “I could feel the acid in my throat and I wasn’t sleeping well,” Harris says. “Then I had to start giving up stuff that I like to eat. Anything even mildly spicy kind of threw me over the edge.”

Of all the symptoms Harris had, losing her voice was probably the most annoying. Working as an attorney, she needed to be able speak with confidence in and out of the courtroom, but there were too many times when she couldn’t speak, at all.

“After I had lost my voice about the 10th or 12th time, I went to my primary care physician,” Harris says.

When the symptoms refused to yield to traditional treatments, she was referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist. A scope procedure did not find other potential issue, so an acid inhibitor was prescribed – but the symptoms persisted.

“Regardless of what I did, I couldn’t make it go away,” Harris says. She then saw a gastroenterologist who performed two procedures and found a hiatal hernia. Harris’s throat was starting to become inflamed, maning she was at risk for lesions that could lead to cancer.

After taking time to intensively pursue the right procedure for Harris’ particular circumstances, the gastroenterologist referred her to general surgeon Willard Campbell, MD. In April 2018 Dr. Campbell performed what is known as laparoscopic Nissen fundoplication at Parkwest Medical Center.

Taming the Tummy

Dr. Campbell explains that the valve in Harris’ stomach that was supposed to keep acid from rising into the esophagus wasn’t working properly. That’s not uncommon as a person ages, and some people are more predisposed to the condition than others.

During the minimally invasive procedure, “We actually wrap a little portion of the stomach around itself and create a pinch around the end of the esophagus, recreating that high pressure valve to prevent the acid from refluxing back,” Dr. Campbell says. “And we can do all that through five very small incisions instead of one large one.”

Dr. Campbell says most patients can go home the same day or the next morning. Harris is pleased with the results. The first thing she noticed was that for the first time in a long time her throat felt clear.

“I woke up, swallowed once, and that sensation in my throat was gone,” Harris says. “I was thrilled!”

Speaking out

Today Harris tries to watch her diet and eat healthy foods that are good for her digestive health. But for the most part, she can eat just about anything she wants to.

Dr. Campbell says the surgery isn’t right for everyone, but it can restore good health and quality of life for those who do need it. The change it’s made in Harris is evident to everyone around her. She feels better and people have noticed it in the way she looks. Laughter comes more easily, and she can speak with the confidence that her voice will remain strong.

 “I would recommend it, absolutely, 100 percent,” Harris says of the procedure. She also praises the doctors who worked together to resolve her problems, the hospital and the nursing staff at Parkwest.

“My mother was a nurse, so I know what to look for,” Harris says. “I can’t say enough about how great they were.”