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The LINX: A Device That Treats Acid Reflux With Magnets

Millions of Americans know the symptoms: a burning feeling in the chest, an acidic aftertaste, a sore throat. Acid Reflux, or gastro esophageal reflux, can typically be managed with over the counter pills or prescription medicine. But for some people, that’s not enough. Now, there's a new device called the LINX that’s helping some people in North Texas put away the pills by putting on a bracelet.

Holly McCool-Heimsath wears two silver bracelets. One on her wrist and one around her esophagus. The one around her esophagus is not a fashion statement. It’s the LINX system -- a bracelet of titanium beads she had implanted in May to help treat gastroesophageal reflux disease known as GERD. GERD is a condition where the stomach acid leaks up into the esophagus, which can be painful and if untreated, can cause some serious, long-term effects.

A Constant Discomfort

For decades McCool-Heimsath took medications to try and relieve her main symptoms: sore throat, trouble sleeping, and severe chest pains that sometimes landed her in the hospital.

“Over half of my life has been taking medication to get to the point where I can’t take it anymore,” she says.

For people like McCool-Heimsath, surgery is the next option. Unlike pills like Prilosec, which actually reduce the acid in your stomach, surgery keeps the acid in your stomach – where it’s supposed to be – but out of your esophagus. For decades the standard surgery for GERD has been Nissen fundoplication. It’s an in-patient procedure where surgeons wrap part of the stomach around the base of the esophagus.

Problem is, the Nissen is irreversible, and can be too restrictive.
Dr. Tom Levoyer surgical oncologist in Plano, explains that while the Nissen can work for many patients, it’s been problematic.

“Historically when it was first done, there was a lot of issues in terms of gas bloat, people couldn’t throw up afterwards, they drink something carbonated or swallow air, that was very uncomfortable for patients,” LeVoyer says.

Goodbye Acid Reflux

For people who want something reversible, and minimally invasive, the LINX is the only FDA-approved option. Holly McCool Heimsath was the first person in North Texas to have the surgery.

“When I came to, there was not even a hint of acid in my esophagus, nothing.” McCool-Heimsath  recalls. “I kept waiting for the acid reflux to come, and it didn’t. It just didn’t.”

McCool Heimsath hasn’t opened her medicine cabinet since the surgery.

In a clinical study of 100 patients, difficulty swallowing, pain, and stomach bloating were the most common risks associated with the LINX System. And while three percent of patients did have the device removed, ninety percent were able to go off daily medication.

Long Term Questions

Dr. Daniel DeMarco of Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas is impressed with the LINX device so far, but says we don’t know how well it will work for more complicated cases of GERD. That’s because the company that makes the device has strict restrictions on who is eligible for the surgery.

“New technology needs to do well when it starts off and I don’t fault the company for limiting use to ideal candidates,” DeMarco says. “But in the future couple years down the line, when they start to allow individuals who’ve had prior surgeries from their reflux disease, they’re bound to run into some more problems,” he says.

Lauren Silverman was the Health, Science & Technology reporter/blogger at KERA News. She was also the primary backup host for KERA’s Think and the statewide newsmagazine  Texas Standard. In 2016, Lauren was recognized as Texas Health Journalist of the Year by the Texas Medical Association. She was part of the Peabody Award-winning team that covered Ebola for NPR in 2014. She also hosted "Surviving Ebola," a special that won Best Long Documentary honors from the Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). And she's won a number of regional awards, including an honorable mention for Edward R. Murrow award (for her project “The Broken Hip”), as well as the Texas Veterans Commission’s Excellence in Media Awards in the radio category.