ARLINGTON, Va. (WUSA9) -- Dr. G. Kevin Gillian is a surgeon at Virginia Hospital Center who treats some of the worst cases of gastrointestinal reflux disease, or GERD, which medication can't control. He says the people who turn to him for a surgical solution have often suffered for years.
Dr. Gillian says, "When people get heartburn, that's just a reflection of why they feel bad. There is damage to the esophagus and damage to the lining of the esophagus and they're uncomfortable. I see people who are in the prime of life taking all the medications they are supposed to and they still feel terrible."
Dr. Gillian is very excited about a newly-approved magnetic device called LINX, which can stop acid reflux with a minimally-invasive procedure.
" If the reflux stops, they don't need the pills. They don't need to alter their diet. They're very happy," he says.
Dr. Gillian says reflux happens when the valve at the bottom of the esophagus weakens, letting stomach acid back up into the food tube, causing a burning sensation. LINX is a tiny bracelet of magnetic beads that's implanted around the valve, fixing what Dr. Gillian describes as a "plumbing problem."
He says, "The advantage is this thing is dynamic. It opens, it closes. When you swallow, it opens and let's the food through. But while you're sleeping at night, it is closed and it prevents this backwash of fluid. It allows you to sleep; it keeps fluid from coming back up."
The LINX surgical procedure typically takes about 30 to 45 minutes; the device is implanted using a scope and small incisions.
"It is essentially a series of magnetic beads encased in titanium on a titanium wire," says Gillian. "We place it right along the lower esophagus, just above the stomach. And what it is doing is it is increasing valve pressure. It makes the valve stronger, but it does it without squeezing the esophagus."
Clinical trials that led to the device's FDA approval have shown it can be a solution that lasts. Kelley Morisette had severe acid reflux for more than 20 years before she got LINX implanted, when it was still an experimental device. Two years after her procedure, she is still heartburn-free.
"I don't take any medicine. I can eat anything in the world I want. I mean anything," says Morisette.
Dr. Gillian began offering the LINX procedure to the first patients at Virginia Hospital Center in July 2013. The most common side-effects from the LINX implant are difficulty swallowing immediately after the procedure, and feeling more 'full' after a meal. But Dr. Gillian says those typically resolve over time.