DALLAS – On her way back to college, 51-year-old Jennifer Smilie has had trouble swallowing food.

“When I would eat regular food, I would immediately have like a choking feeling and would have to run to the nearest bathroom to vomit the food that was stuck,” Smilie explained.

It turns out what she thought was acid reflux was actually a rare condition called achalasia, where the bottom muscle of the esophagus won’t open to allow food to enter the stomach.

Most people with the disorder lose weight, but Smilie consumed nothing but milkshakes, which caused her to become obese. Now, a new technique will allow her to eat solid foods again.

“I think it’s one of the biggest advances we’ve had in esophageal surgery in a long time,” shared Dr. Steven Leeds, the chief of minimally invasive surgery at Baylor Scott & White Health.

Leeds applied an advanced technique called peroral endoscopic myotomy, or POEM, to open up the bottom of her esophagus through her mouth instead of cutting into her abdomen.

“No incisions on her, no recovery time, and no pain,” Leeds said.

Before the POEM procedure, Smilie underwent gastric bypass surgery and lost 130 pounds. Now, she can eat whatever she wants.

“It’s been life-changing for me,” Smilie shared. “I no longer have any reflux. I don’t have to worry about where the nearest bathroom is. I can eat in wonderful moderation anything that I want to eat.”

The POEM technique is not available in every hospital, so people who suffer with achalasia should consult a specialist and ask specifically about the peroral endoscopic myotomy.

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