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New treatment for Albertans with swallowing disorders available in Edmonton and Calgary

A new minimally invasive procedure is now available in Edmonton and Calgary to treat patients with swallowing disorders affecting the esophagus.

Alberta Health Services (AHS) said the treatment affects those with a condition called Achalasia or excessive tightness of the ring of muscle between the esophagus and the stomach.

The first procedure using the new treatment was performed last year in Calgary. It involves a collaborative approach between gastroenterologists and thoracic surgeons at the Royal Alexandra Hospital (RAH) in Edmonton and Foothills Medical Centre (FMC) in Calgary.

AHS said the treatment called peroral endoscopic myotomy (POEM), involves an endoscope — a narrow flexible tube with a camera — is inserted through the mouth and cuts the muscles in the esophagus, without the need for surgery or incisions in the skin.

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Previously, patients with the condition were referred out of province for treatment if they were eligible for a non-surgical procedure rather than traditional surgery.

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“Patients with achalasia have often been suffering from difficulties swallowing for many years. They also struggle with regurgitation, chest pain and maintaining their nutrition,” said thoracic surgeon Dr. Scott Johnson, who performed the city’s first POEM procedure with gastroenterologist Dr. Clarence Wong at RAH this year.

“Endoscopic procedures like POEM often mean less pain and a faster recovery than open surgical procedures,” Wong continued.

Edmontonian patient, Aumer Aasaf, received the treatment in January after suffering with coughing and choking for years during meals, that also affected his sleep.

“I don’t think I’ve had a good night’s sleep in more than five years,” said Aasaf. “Coming together at the table is so important in my family and in my culture, I’ve done my best to adapt to eating but not being able to swallow is something no one should have to live with.”

Aasaf had one overnight stay in hospital after the procedure as a precaution.

It’s estimated 60 patients will now be able to access POEM in Edmonton and Calgary annually.

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