POCATELLO – A new surgery to help patients with chronic reflux disease is available exclusively at Bingham Memorial Hospital in Blackfoot.
"Chronic reflux disease, heartburn and Barrett's esophagus has been my passion for 30 years," said surgeon Kurt Birkenhagen. He has offices in In Blackfoot and Pocatello.
Birkenhagen's interest is not only professional but also personal. He has personally suffered from chronic acid reflux, heartburn and Barrett's esophagus.
Barrett's esophagus is a change in the lining of the esophagus, the swallowing tube that carries foods and liquids from the mouth to the stomach.
Because of his personal interest, Birkenhagen has closely followed research on the device called LINX Reflux Management System.
The device was first developed in Europe eight years ago.
The device received approval from the FDA a year ago, Birkenhagen said. The doctor has recently completed his training on this device.
“I’ve personally known these researchers for 30 years,” he said. “These are people I trust.
“This [surgery] fits a group of patients who we have not been able to treat before,” said Birkenhagen.
“This surgery is an eye-opener,” he said. “There are so many people living in misery with acid reflux.”
“The procedure works,” Birkenhagen said. “It’s great."
So what's the procedure?
The device is a titanium ring. Magnets are inside titanium beads. The beads are laced together on a titanium string.
The ring is placed in a fibrous capsule.
“The device doesn’t erode,” Birkenhagen said.
Surgeons cut five small holes into a person’s abdomen to place this ring at the juncture of the esophagus and stomach.
The ring is under no pressure when it is put in place, he said. “It stretches when you eat.”
A person's swallowing action temporarily breaks the magnetic bond, allowing food and liquid to pass into the stomach. Magnetic attraction between the beads closes the ring after swallowing, reinforcing the barrier to reflux.
The device doesn’t restrict natural actions; when needed, a person can still belch or vomit, Birkenhagen said.
After surgery, "we want people to be eating normally the next day,” he said.
Required physical therapy is to eat a regular diet.
Dr. Birkenhagen estimated it will take about a week or two for the patient to fully recover.
According to the promotional material, 100 percent of patients have eliminated severe regurgitation with the installation of this device.
Birkenhagen is the only doctor in Idaho, Wyoming, Eastern Washington and Utah who is qualified to implant this device.
This surgery is done exclusively at Bingham Memorial Hospital in Blackfoot. Call (208) 782-2884 to reach Birkenhagen Blackfoot. He is there on Monday, Wednesday and sometimes Friday.
Birkenhagen is in Pocatello each Tuesday and Thursday. His office number in Pocatello is (208) 239-8008.