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Article originally February 4, 2020.

Melissa Straits will never forget that time in her life when almost everything she ate would make her sick.

“I started experiencing heartburn 10 years ago and the list of foods I couldn’t eat just grew longer and longer,” said Melissa, 49, of Lancaster. “I could do soups and foods that were heavier, but most soft foods – rice, mashed potatoes, spaghetti – would trigger the heartburn.”

Melissa’s heartburn haunted her all day long, causing painful stomachaches and choking episodes where she would have to force the food out of her throat. At night, she slept on a stack of four pillows to be comfortable enough to sleep. Despite taking a daily proton pump inhibitor and getting annual scopes of her stomach, the heartburn remained.

Finally, Melissa decided to take the advice of her primary care provider Heather Schultz, C.N.P., and pay a visit to Jeffrey Yenchar, M.D. and the Fairfield Medical Heartburn Center.

“Everyone I encountered at the Heartburn Center was wonderful,” Melissa said. “I truly felt cared for as a patient.”

The Heartburn Center, located on the first floor of Fairfield Medical Center, is supported by a team of 10 physicians dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). After undergoing a nurse consultation and a series of diagnostic tests, Melissa was told she was a prime candidate for the Nissen fundoplication surgery.

“Since I had the Nissen, I haven’t had to take any medication,” said Melissa, who had the surgery on March 9. “It’s been remarkable to just live my life.”

The Nissen fundoplication is one of two surgical options offered at FMC for patients suffering from GERD. During surgery, the stomach is wrapped around the lower end of the esophagus and stitched in place, reinforcing the closing function of the lower esophageal sphincter. In patients with GERD, the lower esophageal sphincter is weak, causing acid from the stomach to travel back up into the esophagus and cause damage to the lining.

Melissa said with the help of the education provided through the Heartburn Center by former nurse coordinator (and her former grade school classmate) Tina Cass, MSN, RN, CNL, she learned about the importance of smaller meals and taking her time to eat.

“I can remember as a teen always being told to slow down and sit down to eat – it seemed I was always on the go and just too busy to take the time to eat the way I should,” Melissa said. “Then as a young woman, I soon had four children and the heartburn continued right from when they were infants through their many years of sports. My bad habits had become a bad lifestyle and those choices of unhealthy eating habits soon began to take its toll on my body.”

Now that Melissa has had the Nissen, eating quickly is no longer an option. At every meal, she makes sure to take small bites, chew her food completely and eat slowly. As a result, she’s lost weight and has more time to enjoy the foods that once made her sick. This fall, she’s taking a trip to Disney World with her family to celebrate her 50th birthday and 25th wedding anniversary – and she’s grateful that medication is one of the items she won’t have to pack.

“I would definitely recommend surgery and would tell people to not be in fear of it,” Melissa said. “Looking back, I think, ‘why did I wait so long?’ The Nissen surgery did not just make me feel better, it changed my life.”

The Fairfield Medical Heartburn Center is located on the first floor of FMC, 401 N. Ewing St., Lancaster. Patients do not need a referral to receive a free nurse consultation; just call 740-689-6486.