Hugh Tomlinson: TIF Procedure

For more than 10 years, international flight attendant Hugh Tomlinson has been dealing with severe heartburn and other symptoms of GERD.

For more than 10 years, international flight attendant Hugh Tomlinson has been dealing with severe heartburn and other symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease, commonly known as GERD. He is living much more comfortably now, due to an incisionless procedure performed by thoracic surgeon Mohan Kulkarni, MD.

GERD is a chronic digestive condition that occurs when stomach acid or bile flows back (refluxes) into the digestive pipe (esophagus). The result is a burning in the chest that can spread to the throat, a sour or acid taste in the mouth, and sometimes the feeling of a lump in the throat. For people with GERD, symptoms are often worse when lying flat in bed, and it is recommended to avoid eating or drinking for at least a few hours before going to sleep.

“This was particularly difficult for me, because of my unpredictable travel schedule, which requires me to eat and sleep at odd hours,” Hugh said. “Very often I would wake up at 3 a.m. in terrible discomfort, and after taking medication for so long, it was losing its effectiveness.”

GERD is caused by a failure of a circular band of muscle around the bottom of the esophagus. Normally, when people swallow, the band relaxes to allow food and liquid to flow into the stomach, then closes again. For people with GERD, the band fails to close completely, and stomach acid flows back into the throat. Over time, the acid can damage the esophagus, causing bleeding, breathing problems, erosion of tooth enamel and, in rare cases, cancer.

Hugh had read about a procedure called TIF (transoral incisionless fundoplication), which repairs the muscle dysfunction that causes GERD. “I liked the fact that this procedure is done through the mouth and doesn’t require an outer incision,” Hugh said. “That would mean less pain and a shorter hospital stay and recovery period than with open surgery. I was so tired of limiting my foods, losing sleep and generally feeling awful; this sounded like the right answer for me.”

The TIF procedure is relatively new, but Hugh’s family doctor told him that Dr. Kulkarni had pioneered the procedure at Henry Ford Allegiance Health and gave Hugh a referral.

Dr. Kulkarni performed a test using a special scope down the throat to determine the degree of damage to Hugh’s esophagus and measure the amount and frequency of his acid reflux over a three-day period. Within six weeks, Dr. Kulkarni performed a successful TIF procedure on Hugh.

“I had to avoid lifting heavy objects and eat only liquids or soft foods for several weeks after surgery,” Hugh said, “but it was well worth it. I’ve had absolutely no pain. I no longer need any medication, and I’ve lost 10 pounds watching my portions. I feel great.”

Dr. Kulkarni said, “Henry Ford Allegiance Health is pleased to offer this procedure, because so many people suffer with GERD, and TIF can significantly improve life quality for them. As with Hugh, TIF patients often no longer need to use heartburn medication of any kind.”

Making lifestyle changes, such as avoiding problematic foods or starting a new bedtime routine, may help reduce the symptoms of your acid reflux.