Jefferson University Hospitals

John Gets Relief from Barrett's Esophagus

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"After my last RFA treatment, Dr. Infantolino was able to remove all the precancerous cells and I'm no longer living with pain. The relief is immeasurable."

Vietnam War veteran and three-time Purple Heart recipient John Gentzler suffered multiple injuries during the war. He knows what pain is. But it took 40 years to get relief from a pain he started feeling in Vietnam.

Chronic acid reflux.

Gentzler didn't realize it, but his reflux was a symptom of a bigger problem. It was being caused by Barretts Esophagus — a condition that results when digestive acid backs up from the stomach into the esophagus, causing damage and the growth of precancerous cells.

When the pain began, he was told to take chewable over-the-counter antacid tablets.

"I lived on Rolaids," says the now 66-year-old Gloucester County, N.J. resident. "I desperately needed some kind of relief from this constant burning pain in my windpipe and chest."

He didn't get much relief, though. Even toast with butter seemed to come back with a vengeance. He started altering what he ate. It helped but didn't stop the pain.

Gentzler says he learned to live with it. He continued his life as a husband, father and as deputy director of the facilities department for SEPTA. Over time, however, the burning increased and started interfering with everyday life.

That was when Gentzler sought medical help.

He was referred to Jefferson gastroenterologist Anthony Infantolino, MD, AGAF, FACG, FACP, director of the new Barretts Esophagus Treatment Center. The Center is one of only a few dedicated Barrett's centers in the country and the first multidisciplinary center solely dedicated to treating Barrett's esophagus in Philadelphia.

"Left untreated, Barrett's esophagus can lead to esophageal cancer, an aggressive cancer that is typically fatal," says Dr. Infantolino. "John had damage and the presence of precancerous cells. We knew we had to act quickly."

A common treatment of Barrett's esophagus, even less than a decade ago, was radical surgery in which the esophagus was removed and the stomach was moved up to the neck.

Instead, Gentzler was given five treatments of radiofrequency ablation (RFA). The leading-edge therapy, pioneered at Jefferson by Dr. Infantolino, uses a long catheter with a balloon at the end. The balloon is inflated to the internal size of the esophagus and sends an electrical charge, which removes a thin layer of outer esophageal tissue. This treatment can completely reverse the precancerous changes in the esophagus tissue in 80 to 90 percent of cases, returning the tissue to normal.

Gentzler now has a clean bill of health.

"After my last RFA treatment, I saw Dr. Infantolino every three to six months, and now it's once a year," says Gentzler. "He was able to remove all the precancerous cells and I'm no longer living with pain. The relief is immeasurable."