Keith Currah says it’s “amazing” that Surrey – where he lives – is the first place in the province to offer an incision-less surgery that helped him get his life back.
Surrey Memorial Hospital is the first in B.C. to have and offer surgery with the per oral endoscopic myotomy (POEM) equipment, according to the hospital foundation and surgeon Dr. Chuck Wen.
Before the surgery, Currah was unable to eat without symptoms of choking. The first symptoms, he said, began about 11 years ago.
“It really became a problem about three years ago when I started choking in the middle of the night,” Currah said.
“I would wake up choking and I had no idea what was going on, so that’s when all the testing started.
“I felt like I could drown.”
Then things got worse, he said.
Currah explained he was diagnosed with achalasia, which is a condition that affects a person’s esophagus and prevents the lower esophageal sphincter from opening up to swallow.
He was faced with two options: a laparoscopic procedure or the new POEM surgery.
“Because it’s new, I was uneasy about the whole idea of something completely new like that, but when it came down to it… I’d spoken with the surgeon and he felt really confident that it’s really the best way to go and I looked at the way that it’s done and the risks are really no different.”
Currah said POEM was “no more dangerous” than the more traditional surgical options.
“The risk of the POEM surgery is that they (the surgeons) might slip through the side of the esophagus and that could be a serious problem. But then the laparoscopic surgery, they could do something else down there from underneath the diaphragm and cause some other problems as well.”
In the end, Currah said, the decision came down to healing time, which was “really reduced” with the POEM procedure.
Wen said the POEM is a “cool technology” because there are no incisions at all.
“This is what’s called a natural orifice surgery, so we go through like the mouth and when the patient wakes up there’s absolutely no cuts at all,” said Wen.
Previously, he said, surgeons would have to cut through a patient’s abdomen.
Then as technology got better, there were small incisions, and “now there are no incisions.”
“It’s kind of like a next-level, futuristic-type surgery.”
The POEM machine, according to the Surrey Hospital Foundation, was purchased through a donation from the Gulshan & Pyarali G. Nanji Family Foundation.
Wen said Surrey’s thoracic surgery team is “very well supported in the community” and allows for the team “to have access to some of the best equipment in any major centre.”
“There aren’t that many centres in all of Canada that have it. It’s usually the top sites in the U.S. that have it,” he said.
“In addition to POEM, there’s a whole bunch of other technology that we’ve secured here at Surrey Memorial,” Wen explained, “and it’s largely due to the participation of and donations of the local community that has just been super supportive.”