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Getting back to the life she loves: LINX Reflux Management System restores digestive health

“I didn’t realize how sick I was until after the surgery,” says Andrea Allen.

Allen started experiencing symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) about three years ago. As the director of nursing in a juvenile rehabilitation center in Vermont, she was often busy and stressed. “Looking back on it, I wasn’t eating well, and I was experiencing stomach upset a lot,” she says. “By the time the COVID-19 pandemic began and I was working from home, my symptoms progressed into severe pain.”

Because she was working from home, Allen was able to muddle through her pain, but eventually it got to be too much. “I wasn’t sleeping at night. I had become weak from not exercising. I love to ride my bicycle and work in my gardens, but I just didn’t feel well enough last summer to do anything,” she says.

That’s when she began looking for help. Working in healthcare, she was familiar with the providers in her area and felt comfortable at her local hospital. A surgeon there assumed she had a bile duct irritating her stomach and suggested gastric bypass surgery. Allen thought that seemed like an extreme option, but was desperate to feel better and agreed to undergo the surgery. “As luck would have it, a week before surgery, my insurance company denied me,” she says. “That’s when I decided I needed to find an alternative.”

Based on recommendations from trusted friends, she set her sights on Brigham and Women’s and was quickly referred to minimally invasive gastrointestinal and bariatric surgeon Thomas C. Tsai, MD, MPH, with whom she felt an instant connection. “I was very fortunate. It was only about a six week wait for an appointment,” she says. “Right away, Dr. Tsai put a light at the end of the tunnel. He wanted to run a lot of tests, but he assured me there would be a surgical resolution.”

After several months of testing, Dr. Tsai and Allen agreed the LINX Reflux Management System would be the best option for her particular diagnosis. The LINX system is a minimally invasive treatment option for patients with severe heartburn or GERD that involves the placement of a small magnetic device that prevents acid from rising up into the esophagus.

When the day of surgery finally came, Allen arrived at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital bright and early. “The nurses were incredible,” she says of her experience that morning. “I liked my local hospital because I felt like I knew everyone. At Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital, I felt the same way! They made me feel like I was the only person in that hospital. Whether it was the person drawing blood, doing an EKG or Dr. Tsai himself, I felt like they were focused only on me.”

The minimally invasive procedure went smoothly and Allen was up walking and able to eat—without heartburn—just a few hours after surgery. Because she does not live locally, Allen spent the night in the hospital to make sure she was ready for the long drive back to Vermont.

Her surgery took place on Monday and she was home on Tuesday. “I was good to go!” she says. “I had my two grandchildren—very active 3- and 8-year-olds—at my home over the weekend and I was back to work on Monday.”

A few weeks out, Allen recounts the support she received from Dr. Tsai, who checked in on her regularly after surgery and made sure all her questions were answered. “I feel very fortunate and very blessed to have found Dr. Tsai and to have qualified for the LINX procedure,” she says. “It’s not just that the GERD is gone. I have not felt this good in three years. I think I had gotten used to not feeling well. But now I feel amazing. It’s life-changing. I am excited for Spring. I have 23 perennial gardens that I love working in. I just can’t wait!”

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