Success Stories

Shawn Speed, Aitkin

Shawn Speed, age 45, has left a 15-year history of gastro-esophageal disease (GERD) behind.

“For years I had occasional heartburn, but the main GERD symptom was the acid refluxing into my throat and causing discomfort and that feeling of not having swallowed completely,” Shawn explained. “GERD caused a lot of problems with eating and drinking my favorite foods because if I ate or drank the wrong thing, I would pay for it later, either with heartburn or a lot of acid reflux into my throat. It was pretty much a constant thing if it weren’t for the medication I was taking to control it.”

Shawn learned of the advanced care and treatment for GERD at Minnesota Reflux and Heartburn Center in Aitkin and Crosby through his wife who works in the surgery department at Riverwood Healthcare Center. He researched his options for treatment and the benefits of each.

“The LINX procedure is the least invasive and if it didn’t work or I didn’t like it, I could always go with another treatment,” Shawn said. “I prefer to go with new technology. I took my time to think about it and talked to others who had it done.”

The LINX System is a small flexible bracelet of interlinked titanium beads with magnetic cores. It is implanted with a minimally invasive, outpatient procedure around the weak lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The magnetic attraction between the beads helps the LES resist opening to gastric pressures, preventing reflux from the stomach into the esophagus. Swallowing food temporarily opens the magnetic bond, allowing food and liquid to pass normally into the stomach.

“During the recovery period, it was more work to swallow at first until my body healed,” Shawn said.  “Drinking a lot of water with every meal made everything so much easier.”

After the LINX procedure, Shawn is symptom-free and no longer taking acid-blocking medication. Shawn added:  “I can eat more spicy foods than before without having any issues or heartburn. It’s like I never had reflux.”

Judy Nelson, Aitkin

Judy Nelson, age 68, used to wake up coughing with acid in her throat. She struggled with symptoms of gastro-esophageal disease (GERD) for more than 35 years.

“The last few years, GERD really affected my lifestyle,” Judy explained. “I felt kind of choked when I laid down, so sleeping was difficult. I couldn’t eat out late and coffee and wine triggered my reflux symptoms.

She added: “I tried taking an acid-blocking medication for awhile, but I dislike taking medications and started having some side effect symptoms. My dad died of esophageal cancer and my brother has Barrett’s esophagus, so I’ve been worried about the increased cancer risk for me.”

Her brother’s inquiry on whether she had gone in for an EGD exam prompted her to seek care for GERD at the Minnesota Reflux and Heartburn Center (MRHC) at Riverwood Healthcare Center in Aitkin.

After comprehensive evaluation and testing, the MRHC reflux specialist diagnosed Barrett’s esophagus and advised that the LINX procedure was the best course of treatment for Judy. The LINX System is a small flexible bracelet of interlinked titanium beads with magnetic cores. It is implanted with a minimally invasive, outpatient procedure around the weak lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The magnetic attraction between the beads helps the LES resist opening to gastric pressures, preventing reflux from the stomach into the esophagus. Swallowing food temporarily opens the magnetic bond, allowing food and liquid to pass normally into the stomach.

“I’m delighted with the success of my treatment,” Judy said. “After my procedure three months ago, I haven’t had any acid reflux and I’m not taking any medication. I can drink coffee again. I feel awesome.”

Bill Klennert, Hill City

For more than 25 years Bill Klennert, age 68, suffered from heartburn.

“It became a way of life,” Bill says. “I hate taking pills so I only took a Prilosec pill when I experienced heartburn to make the pain go away.”

After attending a Minnesota Reflux and Heartburn Center seminar in McGregor in March 2015, he made an appointment to see a reflux specialist at Riverwood Healthcare Center in Aitkin. To evaluate his heartburn and acid reflux symptoms and help his doctor plan the best treatment, Bill underwent 48 hours of Bravo pH monitoring to measure the acid levels in his esophagus.

“My esophagus acid levels were off the charts,” Bill explains. “For a 24-hour period, I had a pH reading of 66, then 77 for another 24 hours; normal is 14.”

Bill learned that high esophageal acid levels over time can lead to Barrett’s esophagus and eventually to cancer of the esophagus. Bill was advised by his reflux specialist to consider a laparoscopic Nissen fundoplication, which was subsequently performed in August 2016. This is a surgical procedure in which the upper part of the stomach is wrapped around the lower end of the esophagus and stitched in place, which reinforced Bill’s weak lower esophageal sphincter.

“Four months later, my heartburn is gone,” Bill adds. “I feel great now! I’ve recommended this reflux care to several of my friends.”

Tabatha Peters, Aitkin

Tabatha Peters, age 36, began suffering from gastro-esophageal disease in her early 20’s.

“My symptoms became worse when I was pregnant with my first child at age 27, at which time I was unable to eat and drink any large amounts of tomato products, orange juice or any foods with acid,” Tabatha explains. “I was continually eating Tums to cope with the burning feeling. “

She finally talked to her doctor, who put her on a prescription acid blocker, which helped for many years to control the symptoms of burning, pain and acid taste in throat and mouth.

“When I became pregnant with my second child in 2015, my GERD came back again in full force,” she said. “This time it was so bad that I could not eat anything acid-based and again took Tums through my entire pregnancy. I was not able to eat or drink anything without feeling the pain and burning in my throat.”

Losing weight and feeling she could no longer just “live with it”, Tabatha scheduled an appointment with a reflux specialist at the Minnesota Center for Reflux and Heartburn in Aitkin.

Tabatha underwent three tests, including an EGD, ambulatory pH test and esophageal manometry, to evaluate her symptoms. The EGD revealed a small hiatal hernia, and the manometry showed  poor functioning of her esophagus. Given these results, the reflux specialist explained that medication would no longer help. The best treatment choice for Tabatha was a laparoscopic Nissen fundoplication procedure, which was performed in October 2016.

Tabatha adds: “The recovery time was minimal and there was very little pain. At the follow-up exam a week later I was feeling good.  Two weeks after my procedure, I was GERD-free and have not had any problems with it since then.  I am a much happier person now. I recommend this procedure to anyone who has had GERD.”

ardy-akerson_mrhc5Ardy Akerson, Palisade

For more than 20 years Ardy Akerson suffered with gastroesophageal reflux disease, undermining her enjoyment of life and retirement.

“I was very uncomfortable,” Ardy explains. “I couldn’t eat a lot of foods I liked such as watermelon, cucumbers, green peppers, gravy, onions and garlic. My stomach was bloated all the time. I had trouble sleeping and was taking two ibuprofen at bedtime. I also took antacid pills for many years.”

Ardy learned from several friends and neighbors who have been successfully treated for GERD through the Minnesota Reflux and Heartburn Center in Aitkin and Crosby that there was a surgical solution for reflux.

In June 2016, she underwent a laparoscopic Nissen fundoplication at Riverwood Healthcare Center in Aitkin. This is a surgical procedure in which the upper part of the stomach is wrapped around the lower end of the esophagus and stitched in place, reinforcing the closing function of the lower esophageal sphincter.

“I had no pain with this procedure and my heartburn is gone,” Ardy adds. “Now I can eat almost anything I want, taking smaller bites at a slower pace. I’ve lost 17 pounds and I feel better than I have in 20 years!”

At age 76, Ardy lives with her husband, John, on a lake north of Aitkin. Since her surgery, she has enjoyed more active living, such as caring for her lawn without becoming short of breath.

“I truly never thought this day would come where I can feel like a normal person again. I would highly recommend this treatment to anyone suffering from reflux disease.”


Steve Ladd_2016Steven Ladd, Palisade

Steven Ladd, age 59, was diagnosed with gastropesophageal reflux disease after he began spitting up blood, sought emergency care and was hospitalized.

“Twenty-some years ago a coworker on a roofing job mentioned that I was taking a lot of anti-acid tablets and mentioned reflux disease, but I didn’t think anything of it,” Ladd says. “I just kept taking Tums and Rolaids and experienced many years of upset stomach, heartburn and indigestion before I got relief.”

Ladd was referred for an endoscopy with a reflux specialist at the Minnesota Reflux and Heartburn Center, where he was diagnosed with a precancerous reflux condition called Barrett’s esophagus.
Over the last two years, Ladd has undergone a series of ablations to destroy pre-cancerous cells in his esophagus in an effort to prevent the progression of reflux disease to esophageal cancer.

Ladd, who retired from construction work a few years ago due to health reasons, has congestive heart failure with a defibrillator implant and takes a blood thinner. While these factors add to the complexity of his reflux care, he’s been impressed with how the MRHC team has made accommodations to make the endoscopy and ablation procedures go smoothly for him.

“Right now I have no chest pain and am able to enjoy my diet without too many restrictions,” Ladd adds. “I greatly appreciate the comprehensive care I’ve received for my acid reflux.”

Brenda Hannafin
Brenda Hannafin, McGregor

At first I had mild heartburn, then it developed into something much worse,” Hannafin explains. “I started to wake up from the stomach acid refluxing. I experienced chest pain that radiated up from my shoulders into my jaw; at one point it got so bad that I had to go to the ER. When food began to get caught in my esophagus, I became very concerned.”

Hannafin went to see her primary care provider who referred her to a reflux specialist at the Minnesota Reflux and Heartburn Center. He performed an endoscopy with Bravo monitoring that revealed Hannafin’s stomach acid levels to be quite high.

A biopsy showed that Hannafin has Barrett’s esophagus, a precancerous condition that may potentially lead to esophageal cancer. In December 2015, she underwent radiofrequency ablation of the esophagus to remove precancerous cells.

Hannafin is now taking omeprazole, a prescription medication that effectively decreases the amount of stomach acid the body produces. But she’s planning on having surgery to reinforce the lower esophageal sphincter, which would eliminate the need for taking medication ongoing.
“With the progression of my GERD symptoms, including frequent sleep disruption, I was feeling miserable. Now I’m doing so much better. I’m so grateful for what has been done to treat my reflux disease so far.”


Mike Patterson
Mike Patterson, Aitkin

“My friend and neighbor, Mike Ryan, passed away from esophageal cancer,” says Mike Patterson, 72, of Aitkin. “So I know how important it is to seek medical care for reflux disease early on before it advances to cancer.”

Patterson has had GERD symptoms—some pain in his chest and back as well as gas that builds up and can’t be expelled—for more than 10 years. He first tried treating his symptoms with Tums and Rolaids, but he found he needs a prescription medication, omeprazole, to keep his reflux symptoms under control.

After attending a seminar on reflux and heartburn, Patterson decided to make an appointment with a reflux specialist with the Minnesota Reflux and Heartburn Center to get a thorough checkup.

“I was pleased with how the staff worked to get me in to see a reflux specialist before my wife and I had to leave for our annual winter trip to Florida,” Patterson says. “When I came in for my endoscopy, I felt like I was treated like a VIP.”

After the endoscopy exam and 48-hour monitoring with a Bravo device, Patterson learned that he does not have Barrett’s esophagus and can continue on his current medication for GERD.

Patterson adds: “I got a good report, which gave me peace of mind.”


Greg Past
Greg Past, Grand Rapids

Greg Past, 65, had been experiencing heartburn for more than 10 years. But what prompted him to seek medical care was another symptom—a feeling of hoarseness that caused a raspiness in his voice, which bothered him when he sang and played piano and guitar.

“Six years ago my primary care doctor referred me to an ear, nose and throat specialist who diagnosed GERD and prescribed omeprazole, which has provided relief for my symptoms,” Past explains. “I no longer have to take Tums daily when I jog and I rarely experience heartburn any more, but without any follow-up care I wondered if my GERD was getting any worse.”

Past learned of the advanced diagnostics and treatment that is now available for GERD through the Minnesota Reflux and Heartburn Center. After undergoing an upper endoscopy exam, Past was shown photographs of his esophagus and informed that a biopsy revealed the presence of Barrett’s esophagus, a precancerous condition. Then he was advised that his reflux would be further evaluated with Bravo monitoring, used over a 48-hour period to measure pH (acid) levels in the esophagus.

“I was happy to learn that the monitoring showed that I was having very few episodes of heartburn and other reflux symptoms. My Barrett’s esophagus condition needs no treatment at this time, but I feel better knowing that I will be checked again in three years.”

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Steve Kaskinen, Minnetonka

Steve Kaskinen, 42, an Information Technology Manager of Minnetonka, had bad asthma, coughed incessantly, nasal rhinitis, extreme allergies and would become short breathed just walking up a few stairs. For more than 10 years, he was in and out of hospitals and clinics in the Twin Cities attempting to be treated. Because of the breathing issues and coughing, he was treated by a pulmonologist for several years. After trying several medications and treatments with no success, the specialist determined he had a reflux problem and prescribed medications. He felt better initially but then a couple weeks later, Steve’s problems got worse. He developed hernias and needed operations. He wasn’t getting any oxygen and couldn’t even get up from his sofa without being out of breath and experienced a burning sensation just walking around his home. At that point, he was referred to a gastroenterologist who conducted a Bravo test and learned that Steve had really bad reflux; that the acid in his throat was causing all of his problems. The specialist gave him three options:  take medications the rest of his life and eventually develop esophageal cancer, undergo a fundoplication which has lots of side effects or undergo the LINX procedure. He chose the LINX procedure because it had no side effects and seemed so simple—a magnet would be inserted to close his throat so it would work normally and not allow stomach acid to reflux. He learned that his health insurance would not cover LINX but because his wife is a medical professional, she knew how to research the procedure and learned that there were trial procedures being done in Crosby. He agreed to be part of the study at Cuyuna Regional Medical Center so he could help change coding and encourage insurance companies to pay for the procedure so others would not suffer. Immediately after the procedure as Steve was recovering in his hospital room, his family and friends were startled that he was no longer coughing. Acid was not flushing into his throat. He said it was uncomfortable to eat about four weeks after the procedure but that the trade off was well worth it. He startled himself when he ran up the stairs of his home and walked down the hallway with no heavy breathing. He no longer needs the anti-acid or asthma medications, his chest doesn’t hurt, the sensitivity to smells is gone and his allergies are better. Steve says without the surgery, he would not have been able to handle caring for Zane, his six-month-old son, and now his wife, Jill, who just underwent surgery. “It was a great experience, if you are having some of the same asthma and cough problems I did, then I would really recommend the Minnesota Reflux & Heartburn Center in the Brainerd Lakes Area. The procedure has made a massive change in my life, the facility was great and the care I received was exemplary.”

Elvera Tousley, Crosslake

“I had been coughing for over a year.  I couldn’t sleep, gave up coffee, tea and chocolate and couldn’t even go to church because I coughed so much. I saw several doctors and specialists who said there was nothing they could do and I would just have to live with it; I didn’t know what to do. Finally, my son-in-law who is a doctor in the Twin Cities recommended the Minnesota Reflux & Heartburn Center. I had the LINX procedure in June and stopped coughing immediately. I’m back to my old self. I’m sleeping, eating whatever I want and am back to church and playing cards with my friends.”

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Contact a nurse coordinator

Crosby: Lea carlson, RN
Aitkin: Dawn Harcey, RN