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Thursday, March 09, 2017, 7:20 AM 4:34 PM

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Taming Patient’s Severe Acid Reflux

Shortness of breath after running up the stairs. Heartburn from a bowl of four-alarm chili. For most people, these feelings are uncomfortable but brief. For Kevin Ogawa of Lakewood, they were painful, long-lasting episodes that often did not respond to medication.

Unable to manage his symptoms, Ogawa continued to struggle with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a condition more commonly known as acid reflux. Ogawa’s GERD was often so severe that he had to force himself to vomit just to feel comfortable. When specialists were unable to fully diagnose Ogawa’s symptoms or provide long-term relief for his GERD and shortness of breath, he began oxygen therapy.

Out of answers, one of Ogawa’s doctors sent him to National Jewish Health and Saint Joseph Hospital. “The doctors there had a totally different approach,” he said. “They look at it like ‘the body all works together.'”


Working Together to Find Answers

At National Jewish Health, Ogawa saw a multidisciplinary team of specialists in pulmonology, gastroenterology and pulmonary hypertension. “It was great having all of my specialists right there in one place,” he said. A series of tests revealed that in addition to GERD, pulmonary hypertension and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) with emphysema, Ogawa had a hiatal hernia.

A hiatal hernia is a common condition that occurs when the upper part of the stomach pushes through the large muscle separating the abdomen and diaphragm.

While a small hiatal hernia typically does not cause problems, a large one can allow acid and food to back up into the esophagus and cause heartburn.


Specialized Procedures, Expert Diagnosis Make the Difference

To repair Ogawa's hernia and treat his GERD, Emily Speer, MD, a surgeon at Saint Joseph Hospital and National Jewish Health, performed a paraesophageal hernia repair and fundoplication. The main surgery for acid reflux, fundoplication involves wrapping the upper portion of the stomach around the lower part of the esophagus. This procedure reduces acid reflux by tightening the outlet between the esophagus and the stomach.

“Dr. Speer did a really great job,” Ogawa said. “I no longer have heartburn or acid reflux.”

Another key component of controlling Ogawa’s GERD is managing his Barrett's Esophagus, a change in the lining of the esophagus after injury. Present in only about 1.6 percent of the population, it is most often diagnosed in people with GERD. To manage the rare condition, Ogawa’s doctors work to keep the acid levels in his stomach as neutral as possible.

The surgery and symptom management have made a positive difference in Ogawa’s life. He no longer has to force himself to be sick, or sit up through the night to avoid GERD flare-ups. He can eat without discomfort or pain.


Facing the Future with His Care Team

Ogawa continues to work with his doctors to manage his pulmonary hypertension and COPD with emphysema. He is both optimistic and realistic about his respiratory challenges. “Things aren’t set in stone,” he said. He is confident in his care team at National Jewish Health and Saint Joseph Hospital. “They’re a team, and they work together like a team,” Ogawa said. “The communication is good. The right hand knows what the left is doing.”

From his doctors, to the nurses at Saint Joe’s who attended to his every need after surgery, to the people who greet him by name when he arrives at his appointments, Ogawa said he cannot imagine receiving better care.“I don’t get any different treatment than a millionaire would. That’s how they make me feel,” he said. “I am very grateful that I was referred to National Jewish Health and Saint Joseph Hospital.”