A year on, St. Luke’s acid reflux institute expands by consolidating
Founded almost a year ago, the Heartburn & Acid Reflux Institute at CHI St. Luke’s Health - The Woodlands Hospital is undergoing an expansion - by consolidating. The institute, said Surgical Director Yong Choi, is making it easier for those suffering from acid reflux - the regurgitation of food through the esophagus - and its most common symptom, heartburn, to treat the problem close to home.
“The institute raises awareness of reflux and heartburn and lets people know that there is help out there,” Choi said. “There’s something you can do about it.”
Before St. Luke’s opened the institute at the end of 2017, the nearest place a patient in The Woodlands suffering from acid reflux and heartburn could test their manometry - the motor functions of the esophagus - was at the Houston Northwest Medical Center, Choi said.
Vanessa Hargett, a nurse practicioner at the institute, said one goal of the institute is to avoid putting patients through a drawn-out process of testing for acid reflux, then figuring out a treatment option and finally directing them to the proper doctors. Now, that can be done in one location, she added.
Hargett’s role as nurse practitioner means patients have one point of contact - one number to call from the beginning of the diagnostic process to the end, whether that end comes in medication, lifestyle changes or a surgical solution from Choi; or from ear, nose, and throat specialist Michael Briscoe and gastroenterologist Paul McNeely.
“Whatever route they decide to take, that’s where I come in to sort of keep them on track and make sure they don’t fall between the cracks,” Hargett said.
The institute has seen more than 300 patients since its inception and a major part of the Institute’s new role is outreach, Hargett said: relaying to symptomatic patients suffering from heartburn, excessive coughing and clearing of the throat, and pulmonary issues, that there are solutions to acid reflux — and that they don’t have to drive to the Texas Medical Center to get it.
So far, Choi said, St. Luke’s is the only hospital in The Woodlands to offer the LINX Reflux Management System - a set of magnetic ball bearings held together by titanium wires tied around the point where the esophagus meets the stomach to prevent acid from rising.
“We just felt like it’d be good up here, as this community is growing, to have an institute that can specialize and can offer medical and surgical treatments for acid reflux under one umbrella,” Choi said.
No one is immune to acid reflux, Choi said, but there are risk factors that can increase a patient’s likelihood to get it, including obesity and eating acidic foods. Beside the LINX system, the Institute offers Nissen fundoplication, a technique that brings the back of the top of the stomach around to tie it in the front.
As the demand for specialized acid reflux treament grows, Choi said, the Institute and St. Luke’s aim to be at the forefront of The Woodlands’ push to become the Medical Center of the North - the institute has seen patients come in search of relief from as far away as College Station.
“At the end of the day, we want to help the patient,” Choi said.