How pioneering research in El Paso renewed the life of a former project engineer
For over a decade, project engineer Patrick Ellis crisscrossed the globe, fine-tuning power components for intricate mechanical systems. Yet, despite his professional success, he wrestled with chronic digestive issues. He attributed his frequent nausea to Type 1 diabetes, diagnosed in 2013, and his poor diet, a consequence of his relentless travel schedule.
By 2020, at 40, Ellis's gastrointestinal symptoms intensified, with constant nausea and vomiting impeding his diabetes management. His deteriorating health forced him to relinquish his career and move in with relatives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. A hospitalization following a fall revealed a startling diagnosis: his stomach was paralyzed due to a condition known as gastroparesis.
Gastroparesis disrupts the stomach's ability to propel food through the digestive system, and it is a condition affecting about 5% of the population. Treatments vary, from dietary adjustments to medication. Ellis, however, experienced severe symptoms that rendered conventional treatments ineffective.
When two local gastroenterologists suggested surgeries involving a feeding tube placed through his abdomen directly into his intestine, Ellis sought a third opinion. This led him to gastroenterologists and researchers Richard McCallum, M.D., and Irene Sarosiek, M.D., at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso.
The Under-recognized Burden of Gastroparesis
“If you look at the big picture, everyone thinks they have celiac disease. That's one to two percent of the population,” said Dr. McCallum. “Gastroparesis, on the other hand, affects 5% of the nation’s adults. We’re not dealing with an uncommon condition here.”
Dr. McCallum noted the disease's prevalence, especially in areas with high diabetes, high cholesterol, and obesity rates. El Paso, with its 11% adult diabetes rate compared to 8.5% for the rest of the U.S., became a focal point for gastroparesis research.
Initially, Dr. McCallum and Dr. Sarosiek explored gastric stimulation as a treatment, believing that stimulating the stomach could aid food movement. However, they found out that the vagus nerve, which can be harmed by diabetes, plays a major role in causing gastroparesis. This nerve damage weakens the stomach's ability to churn food properly and makes it harder for the stomach to pass the chewed food into the small intestine for digestion. This revelation led to the exploration of alternative treatments.
Innovative Treatment in our Borderplex
The El Paso team's breakthrough came with the combination of two procedures performed by surgeon Brian Davis, M.D., a professor and director of surgical research with the university. The first is the use of a gastric stimulator that creates small electrical currents to signal the brain to reduce nausea. The other procedure is pyloroplasty, surgery that widens the lower part of the stomach so it can empty into the small intestine. This dual approach showed remarkable success, with over 70% of patients undergoing the procedures reporting improved quality of life, a key measure of success. Additionally:
63% of patients reported returning appetites, and food tolerance improved.
86% resume normal activities, such as driving, exercise, and employment.
86% would strongly recommend the procedure.
Encouraged by these results, Ellis decided to undergo the procedure. The surgery's success was immediate; Ellis experienced significant relief and resumed a more normal life.
The broader impact of Dr. McCallum and Dr. Sarosiek's work, supported by over $8 million in National Institutes of Health grants, offered hope to many suffering from gastroparesis, with patients worldwide seeking treatment in El Paso.
Medical centers across the nation have adopted the procedure developed by Drs. McCallum Sarosiek and Davis. Today upward of 4,000 patients each year elect surgery to bring them relief from the debilitating symptoms caused by gastroparesis.
A New Chapter for Ellis
Post-surgery, Ellis’s quality of life transformed. He regained his appetite and weight, resumed social activities, and controlled his diabetes more effectively. Dr. McCallum emphasized the procedure's role in enhancing diabetes management, a crucial aspect for patients like Ellis.
Regularly traveling from Albuquerque for follow-ups, Ellis's recovery symbolized a triumph over a debilitating condition. His story, blending personal struggle with medical innovation, highlights the potential for groundbreaking treatments to reshape lives here in our Borderplex and beyond.
To learn more about treatment options for gastroparesis, call Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso for an appointment at 915-215-5200, or visit: TTP El Paso Gastroenterology Division.
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Original Article: TECH TALK - DEC 28, 2023