When Peter Harrison began experiencing painful symptoms such as heartburn, he thought his discomfort was simply down to vocal stress, caused by his time performing as a singer in a punk band.
But soon the burning pain in Peter’s chest became so severe that he was forced to visit A&E, convinced he was in the throes of a heart attack.
However, medics could find nothing wrong with the 34-year-old’s heart – and eventually he was diagnosed with gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, or GORD for short.
Peter, from Millhouses in Sheffield, was told to take antacid medication to tackle the common digestive condition, the effects of which are suffered by about one in five people on a weekly basis.
But the drugs gave him irritable bowel syndrome as a side-effect, and his symptoms worsened to such a degree that, despite altering his diet to avoid problem food and drink, he felt constantly unwell, and his confidence began to deteriorate.
Peter was reluctant to undergo the traditional irreversible surgical procedure used to treat GORD – involving wrapping the top part of the stomach around the lower part of the gullet – as it can leave patients with dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing.
So he was offered the chance to have a special implant fitted on the NHS which helps tighten weakened muscles in the food pipe – or oesophagus – that cause reflux, where stomach acid and bile leaks out of the stomach.
The Linx device is a small, flexible band of magnets enclosed in titanium beads which is placed around the oesophageal sphincter, a ring of muscle at the junction of the oesophagus and the stomach. Magnetic attraction between the beads helps keep the loose muscles closed.
It takes less than an hour to fit the implant using keyhole surgery, and within a week of having the treatment in July, Peter started to feel better. He will need to keep the device for the rest of his life.
“I feel so fortunate to have been able to have it done,” he said. “Just a week after the procedure I noticed the effects of it, and I was able to stop taking my medication. Occasionally I need to take over-the-counter antacids, but nowhere near as frequently as before.
“I felt so happy and confident after the procedure that I’ve even embarked on a new career. I have moved house, reignited my social life, and I am getting married next year. The spring is back in my step, and I know that things can only get better.”
Peter, who works as a senior administrator, first experienced symptoms of GORD five years ago.
“During my first bout, I was convinced I was having a heart attack and went to A&E, and was diagnosed with reflux,” he said.
“Over the years I dealt with side effects as well as the effects of GORD and tried several medications, along with lifestyle changes, but nothing worked.
“I gave up caffeine and alcohol, changed the food I ate, adjusted the height of my bed, slept on my left side – everything I could find to help, I tried it.”
He added: “I was constantly so unwell, and the whole situation was getting me down. My social life suffered too. I was unable to drink and felt ill all the time anyway, so didn’t really feel like going out.”
The Linx implants are only available in certain areas on the NHS. Peter’s GP in Sheffield referred him to Epsom and St Helier University Hospital in Surrey for his operation. A recent study – which reviewed two groups of patients six months after surgery – found both the magnets and the standard stomach procedure controlled GORD’s symptoms, but the implant had fewer side effects.