Aurora woman with rare condition is eating regular food again after new procedure

July 21, 2021 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Heroes

Heading to dinner or a party isn’t a problem anymore for Joanne Wade.

No longer does the 81-year-old Aurora woman worry about what will be on the menu or if the food served will cause a choking episode.

Wade, who was diagnosed with Zenker’s Diverticulum (ZD), can now eat without food getting stuck in her throat thanks to a fairly new procedure, performed by Gonzalo Pandolfi, M.D., to alleviate the condition.

“I’m eating chicken, steak, apples,” says Wade. Until recently, she stayed away from steak, would often eat fish and mashed potatoes, and would shred chicken with her fork before eating it. “I’m chewing and swallowing and I no longer choke. I can’t tell you what a dream it is.”

In years past, Wade would experience “choking” episodes. She could still breath during these episodes but she would have to stop eating and calmly wait for whatever food was stuck to make its way down her esophagus.

Much like diverticulosis, Zenker’s Diverticulum occurs when there is an outpouching created near the opening of the esophagus. Considered a rare condition, Zenker’s Diverticulum is the result of high pressure, or a tightening, of the cricopharyngeus muscle near the top of the esophagus leading to the creation of an outpouch, which can become the path of least resistance for food to pass.

Symptoms of Zenker’s Diverticulum can include regurgitation of food, difficulty or pain when swallowing, coughing, aspiration of food, bad breath and, in some cases, unintended weight loss, says Dr. Pandolfi.

Dr. Pandolfi performed a procedure known as Z-POEM (or Zenker’s Peroral Endoscopic Myotomy) to ease the pressure in the cricopharyngeus muscle and clear the outpouch. Z-POEM stems from the same procedure, POEM, that is used to treat achalasia, a disorder that occurs when damage to the nerves in the esophagus make it difficult for normal digestion.

An endoscopic procedure, Z-POEM makes use of a flexible video endoscope tube that is inserted through the throat into the proximal esophagus. A camera at the end of the tube allows the endoscopist to visualize the muscle and the outpouch. A small electrosurgical knife inserted at the end of the tube is used to tunnel around the muscle and under direct visualization, precisely dissect the muscle and relieve pressure.

Wade, who had turned down another surgical option years ago, learned about Z-POEM during an appointment (for an unrelated matter) with a physician assistant at Suburban Gastroenterology. After reviewing her chart, the physician assistant asked about Zenker’s and how it was being managed, then informed Wade that there was a doctor at the practice who could help.

Dr. Pandolfi is an advanced therapeutic endoscopist that happens to be the only doctor in the western suburbs who performs this and other technically-advanced procedures.

“I must have choked three times the following week so I decided to call him,” says Wade, adding that when she met with Dr. Pandolfi, he took time to discuss the condition and procedure with her.

While Wade did not like the chances with previous surgical options, she says the Z-POEM procedure Dr. Pandolfi explained seemed like an answer to her years-long condition.

“There is a higher success rate with this procedure,” says Dr. Pandolfi, adding that it is less invasive than other options and recovery time is shorter.

Wade had her surgery in May 2021. The entire procedure took less than an hour and required an overnight hospital stay for observation, says Dr. Pandolfi.

For her part, Wade thought recovery would be rough and was certain she would have “the mother of all sore throats” after surgery. And while she had a slight sore throat and had to follow a liquid diet for several days, she says it wasn’t long before she was enjoying regular food.

Since her surgery, Wade has not had any choking episodes. She’s happy she no longer has to worry about what she is going to eat when out with family and friends.

“I’m doing fabulously,” she says. “It’s a pleasure to be able to sit down and order whatever you want off a menu and have it not be fish and mashed potatoes.”

To learn more about Dr. Pandolfi or to schedule an appointment, visit his online profile.

Learn more about gastroenterology services at Edward-Elmhurst Health

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