By: Jean Johnson for Reflux1
Chocolate Denied – A Life with Reflux
Even though Rebecca Oaks has kept right on making chocolate and nut candies at Christmas and Easter as a favor to her four grandchildren, she hasn’t been able to eat the goodies for the past 10 to 15 years. Indeed, rich sweets including the chocolate pies she likes to make aren’t the only foods Oaks has had to avoid, particularly in the more recent years as the 5’3” grandmother’s weight has dwindled from 125 to 91 pounds.
“Practically all these years I would still cook for the family like I always did, but I couldn’t eat it. I had become afraid of food because I knew it would hurt me. I had severe heartburn with cramping in my chest all the way through to my back,” she said. “I mean, I was a mess.”
Oaks, who hails from Alabama originally but who raised two children in the Portage, Indiana area just outside Chicago, first started having heartburn in the early 1990s. That’s when all that good southern cooking and solid Midwest fare that she’d learned to make throughout her life as a daughter, wife and mother became nigh to intolerable for her to enjoy.
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Dr. Pete Mavrelis. brought the Stretta System to his practice more than five years ago. Read his comments about Stretta and other GERD therapies in Reflux1’s Hero interview here
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“Like Thanksgiving dinners with cornbread dressing and that rich turkey broth,” she said. “I’d make things like that two or three times a year, but I had to be careful. It was the same with ham. And pumpkin pies as well because they had too much spice. I was really limited to no spices.
“Potato salad was a problem too. I really couldn’t eat much of that because of the green pepper and the onion,” Oaks said. “Even vegetables – I like my green beans cooked for a long time with bacon grease in there. But even if I’d eat a few bites, then after about a half hour I would hurt.”
Oaks explains that her reflux was relatively mild during the first several years, but for about the last five years the severity increased significantly.
"In the beginning it was just mild heartburn," she said. Especially during the first two years or so. But it didn’t get better and instead just kept getting worse. It was really bad for probably 10 years, and by the end the pain was terrible. My daughter would want me to eat. ‘Eat, mom,’ she would say. ‘You have to eat.’”
“I tried, but since I knew what it would do to me I didn’t want to take more than a few bites. It even became impossible for me to sleep at night because I hurt so bad. I would have a cramping in my throat, and I wasn’t getting rest at night. I was absolutely a nervous wreck – and then losing my husband in February this year,” Oaks said quietly. “I wish he could have known that I finally did get help.”
A General Practitioner and Two Gastroenterologists but No Help
At first Oaks saw her general practitioner for her acid reflux, but when things didn’t improve he agreed that she should see a gastroenterologist. “That was about 10 years ago, but all the first specialist knew to do was just use scopes and give me medication,” said Oaks. “His office was a very long drive from home, making it difficult, especially in the winter, as we have a lot of snow and icy roads in our area.
“So I decided to find someone closer, and a friend recommended the next one. He was a gastroenterologist too, but after the Protonix wasn't working for me I was told he just didn’t know anything else he could do for me.
“That was about the time when my husband was sick with lung cancer during 2005 and 2006, and you know how you just forget about yourself when you’re trying to see someone through something like that,” Oaks said.
After her husband passed away in February 2006, amid her grief Oaks finally decided she needed to do some serious shopping around.
“I had gotten ill to the point I was desperate, but different ones – friends and then another doctor that I see for another condition said it was fine to go get a second opinion.
"He thought it was a good idea that I go see someone else to see what other options were available. I hadn’t been to the second gastroenterologist in quite a while any way because he said there wasn’t any way he could help me. So I thought that it was time to travel on,” Oaks said with a polite chuckle.
Oaks, of course, is a salt-of-the-earth American woman who would never dream of criticizing the medical world too harshly. That said, she did observe: “It’s too bad these specialists couldn’t get the word on that out, and if they couldn’t do the procedure they could send patients to someone who does.”
More, Oaks rightly wonders why the previous gastroenterologist she saw since the Stretta procedure has been out was apparently not reading his medical journals and keeping up on developments in his own area of clinical practice.
“I don’t know why they wouldn’t know even if they are real good doctors like mine was. If they are a specialist in a field they must get some kind of literature on things like that,” she said. “Because you know, anyone can get on the computer and find out a lot of things about Stretta just like we did once we knew what to look for.”
Second Opinion and the Stretta System, a Smart Move
Oaks was fortunate she says, since “Several friends told me about Dr. Mavrelis and highly recommended him.” Still, by the time she got her appointment made, she was in dire straights.
“By the time I saw Dr. Mavrelis my symptoms were horrible. I had gotten to the point that I could hardly eat – even crackers would bring on trouble. It was the same with drinking. Sometimes just water would give me terrible heartburn. I had really almost given up hope since the last gastroenterologist said he didn’t know what to do for me,” said Oaks. “But then Dr. Mavrelis told me about the Stretta Procedure. That was in May 2006.
“I kept thinking there might be a down side to it since I’m a suspicious person, but I really was desperate. It was really the only choice that I had to get help, so I was willing to take the chance,” she said. “I was a little afraid, but I’d had good recommendations about this doctor – that he was a really good specialist – and I trusted what he had to say to me.”
Oaks says that she and her children did some research on their own as well. “After I heard the word Stretta, we got on the computer, and I saw what they would do before I had it done. Also I had surgery at the Mayo Clinic about 45 years ago, and we have great confidence in the Mayo Clinic. So when I saw on their Web site that they recommended Stretta it helped.
“Even then, deciding to have the procedure done was a little bit scary and I was a little apprehensive, but it didn’t hurt when he did it since they put me to sleep and I was out. There was only a little bit of pain when I first woke up, but that was just from the scoping going down and coming back out – and they gave me something for it before I left the hospital. I think from start to finish I was there about three hours, with most of it getting ready and recovering. I think the actual procedure took only 30 minutes or maybe a little more.”
Chocolate Restored – Life after Stretta a Cautiously Optimistic Dream
It’s been about two months since Oaks had the Stretta Procedure done by gastroenterologist Peter Mavrelis, M.D.
“I’ve been waiting for it to work, and I believe that it is really working for me,” said Oaks, adding, “In fact I know it is.
“Still, I had the acid reflux so long that I’m going to gradually play this by ear,” she said. “Hopefully I won’t have to think about what I eat at all any more once all the healing that’s supposed to take a few more months is completed.
“The doctor did tell me not to take any more of my medicines, and even though I thought, ‘I hope he knows what he’s doing,’ I stopped and things are fine. I was on 40 mg of Protonix two times a day, but that wasn’t working anyway. Also I’d take Tums all those years hoping that would help.
“I have been gaining back some of the weight I lost – probably 6 or 7 pounds now,” said Oaks. “I was always a very active person and don’t like to be sick, so this has been a wonderful experience for me having this procedure done. On the eating, so far I’m being careful because I’m still a little afraid I guess. But yesterday I ate some cheese pizza and a piece of my grandson’s chocolate birthday cake.”
Wow. From water and crackers being a problem to indulging in pizza and birthday cake? Rather a stunning change in our minds here at Reflux1.
Also in addition to Oaks being able to start getting more nourishment and joining the family for celebratory pizza and cake, sleep has returned. “Yes, I can get my rest now and am able to do activities at the church and visit friends in nursing homes – things to make someone else feel a little better.
Parting advice from Mrs. Oaks? “I’ve told in person and e-mailed everybody I could think of about what I had done, and the ones around close to me know I’m eating better. So I would say if they are suffering like I was, I would say to have it done. I would recommend it.”
Oaks is silent for a moment, possibly mulling over the more than 10 years she spent in a profoundly debilitated state from acid reflux. “Yes, if I had the Stretta to do over again, I would have it done. It’s made a world of difference for me, and it’s too bad these specialists couldn’t get the word out on that.”
We agree and hope this story helps further the cause. As the old adage goes, knowledge is power.