A Surrey man who spent years not being able to eat normally due to a rare disorder has experienced a life-changing outcome following a procedure at Surrey Memorial Hospital.
Keith Currah was diagnosed with achalasia, a condition where the esophagus loses the ability to push food down, and the valve connecting the esophagus to the stomach doesn't open as it should.
"So food would go in, but it wouldn't get into my stomach," Currah said.
He began experiencing symptoms over a decade ago, but said they became more severe within the last three to four years.
"I started choking in the middle of the night," Currah told CTV. "It got to a point where, family dinners, I'd have to sit off to the side and make sure that I was, like, within running distance of some place I could go clear my throat."
Currah said he had to drink carbonated water constantly, because it helped him swallow.
"You have no idea how much food is actually part of our daily lives and our social life until you can't participate anymore."
Currah was eventually referred to thoracic surgeon Dr. Chuck Wen, who treats patients with achalasia at Surrey Memorial Hospital.
Wen said the cause of the condition is unclear, and it can occur in up to ten people out of 100,000, making it relatively rare.
"But, for example, in the Fraser Health region where we serve about two million people, it ends up being close to 100 to 200 patients a year," Wen told CTV.
He said many of his patients experience symptoms with almost every meal, including pain, inability to eat, and regurgitation. He said they sometimes lose weight as a result.
Wen added many patients tell him they can't go out to eat, or attend family functions.
"Eating is such an important part of all of our lives," he said.
For the past year, Wen has been using a piece of equipment to treat people with achalasia in a less invasive way.
It's called the Per Oral Endoscopic Myotomy machine, or POEM machine, and was purchased with the help of donations to the hospital.
Wen said it is the only POEM machine in Western Canada.
Using a scope, Wen is able to access the lower esophagus through a patient's mouth, rather than making an incision through the abdomen. He then makes small cuts that help keep the valve to the stomach open.
"It results in a lot quicker recovery for a lot of these patients," Wen said, adding that many can return home by the next day.
Wen said he's treated about ten to twenty people since the machine arrived at the hospital.
"I think they notice a big difference right away, actually."
Currah said he noticed a change within a few days of having the procedure done last year.
"My son took me out to McDonald's and I had my first milkshake in years," he said. "The first milkshake was like, from heaven, it was wonderful."
He said he can now enjoy family dinners and going out to eat with friends, and he's grateful to the donors who made the POEM machine possible in Surrey.
"It's just been life changing."