Richard: Time is on His Side

Time is always important. Even at the tender age of 81.

In July 2012, Richard H. of Hagerstown, Maryland thought his time might be running out. Earlier in the year he'd begun having problems swallowing, but hadn't thought too much of it. But as the months passed, the problem grew worse, and by summer it was all he could think about. "It came on gradually," Richard said. "But all of a sudden I was having real problems swallowing and I could hardly eat or drink. I would throw everything back up. It was miserable."

When he was in his early 70s, Richard had survived colon cancer and a near-deadly blood clot, but for ten years he'd been cancer free and vital. A retired high-end clothing salesman, he had celebrated his 81st birthday in May 2012 and was still quite active, puttering around his house and working on his collection of clocks; nearly 60 of them, which take up an entire room in his home and hourly release a burst of music and bird songs to mark the time.

But in Spring 2012 Richard's swallowing problems were getting the better of him. He couldn't keep food down and had lost 20 pounds. So he visited his primary care physician in Hagerstown, an idyllic city in the Cumberland Valley of Western Maryland, about 75 miles due west of Baltimore. His doctor there performed a barium swallow test, and after seeing the results he took no time making a recommendation for treatment.

"He told me to go to Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore," Richard said. "I think he knew it was more than he could handle."

It was not, however, more than Mercy could handle.

Time for a Change

Richard was referred to Dr. Patrick Hyatt at Mercy, a noted therapeutic endoscopist and gastroenterologist. Dr. Hyatt is a specialist at Mercy's Center for Heartburn and Reflux Disease, which is dedicated to preventing and treating diseases of the esophagus, and is part of the hospital's Institute for Digestive Health & Liver Disease.

Despite the long commute from Hagerstown, Richard went to see Dr. Hyatt who diagnosed Richard's problem as achalasia. Achalasia is a rare disease which causes the muscle of the esophagus to fail to relax, causing an inability of the lower esophagus to open and let food pass into the stomach. In other words, it makes it hard to swallow, and Richard had it in spades.

Dr. Hyatt's initial course of treatment was to perform dilation of the lower esophageal sphincter, a procedure done by having Richard swallow a tube with a balloon at the end, and then blowing the balloon up. The dilation procedure was performed three times, but did not get the result Richard or Dr. Hyatt were hoping for. So Dr. Hyatt recommended Richard take the next step - an esophagomyotomy, a surgical procedure where an incision is made to open the lower part of the esophagus. The procedure was performed laparoscopically through small punctures in the abdomen.

Wasting No Time

The surgery was performed in mid-December 2012, and it was a success. For Richard, the result wasn't hard to swallow.

"I went in to Mercy on a Friday and was home by Saturday," Richard said. "And I got to eat Christmas dinner without a problem. It was a great present."

Several months later now, Richard says he's "100 percent better," and credits Mercy and Dr. Hyatt for his return to health.

"Dr. Hyatt was very good, very personable and professional," Richard noted. "I would go into his office and he'd really take time with me to talk and explain and listen. I felt very secure with him. If he wasn't so far away I'd go to him for all my health care."

"Overall," he added, "what I found with Mercy Medical Center is that they really cooperate with you. They treated me like an individual. I have nothing but good things to say about the hospital and the staff."

Back home in Hagerstown, Richard says he has to watch what he eats now, but he's back to a normal routine, enjoying retirement and marking time with his clocks. "I'm an old school guy," he says. "I enjoy simple things." Like time, now that he has plenty of it again.

Richard's Treatment Team