UC San Diego Medical Center doctors have performed America's first incision-free myotomy, a procedure to treat achalasia, a distressing disorder which causes difficulty swallowing, regurgitation and chest pain.
The innovative surgery was performed through the mouth.
"With dramatic advancements in medical devices, we can now perform complex surgeries through the mouth with no external incisions," said Santiago Horgan, MD, chief of minimally invasive surgery and director of the UC San Diego Center for the Future of Surgery. "What we are seeing is the evolution of laparoscopic surgery into more specialized procedures that require no incisions at all."
Laparoscopic surgery to treat achalasia is called the Heller Myotomy, a two hour procedure requiring up to six small incisions in the abdomen to divide the esophageal muscle. During this traditional procedure the surgeon cuts the muscles of the lower esophagus in order to let food and liquid pass to the stomach. Horgan's technique, known as natural orifice translumenal endoscopic surgery, is performed entirely through the mouth in less than 90 minutes.
John Slepicka, 49, of Oceanside has suffered from chronic achalasia for two years resulting in a 30 pound weight loss.
"Over time I could not eat the foods I love. I could no longer go to restaurants. My friends said I looked unhealthy," said Slepicka. "When I tried to eat, the food would get stuck in my throat. I would swallow air or stand up to get the food down. I worried that I had cancer or a tumor that was preventing the food from dropping down."
Achalasia is a rare and progressive disorder of the esophagus that impairs the ability to swallow. Achalasia is characterized by abnormal enlargement of the esophagus, an inability of the esophagus to push food down toward the stomach, and failure of the ring shaped muscle of the lower-esophagus to relax and allow food to pass into the stomach.
"With prior surgeries my post-operative pain was a 13 on a scale of one to ten. Because this surgery was done without cuts, I don't feel like I've even had a procedure," said Slepicka. "I participated in the trial because I wanted to help find a potential new treatment for achalasia that would not mean major surgery."
The UC San Diego Center for the Future of Surgery is investigating, developing and teaching the next generation of scarless and minimally invasive surgeries.