Dennis DiBenedetto

TheTaste Of Sweet Relief

Thanks to a pioneering procedure at Monmouth Medical Center, a New Jerseyan once again enjoys solid food.

Dennis DiBenedetto and Stephen A. Gorcey, MD

For years, Dennis DiBenedetto experienced bouts of choking when trying to swallow food and had difficulty getting a good night’s sleep due to aspiration (breathing food contents into the lungs). Fortunately, he is now able to eat solid food once again without choking after undergoing a unique procedure called peroral endoscopic myotomy—also known as POEM —at Monmouth Medical Center.

Liquid diet

It was 2010 when Dennis, an avid surfer, was forced to give up all solid food. He started subsisting on nutritional drinks because he couldn’t keep solid foods down. “It was an extremely difficult and uncomfortable way to live,” says the 62-year-old Manchester Township resident. “I started losing a lot of weight and was malnourished.”

After searching for answers and ending up in the office of a gastroenterologist, Dennis was diagnosed with esophageal achalasia, a rare disorder that affects the ability of the esophagus to move food and liquids into the stomach. Normally, the ring of muscle where the esophagus and stomach meet relaxes when one swallows food. But in people with achalasia, it fails to relax.

“The doctor performed an endoscopy and saw that the muscle that lets food into the stomach was constantly tightened,” he says. “It wasn’t opening to let food through.”

Because the muscle connecting Dennis’s stomach and esophagus hadn’t been working properly for some time, the doctor also saw damage to the muscle fibers of the esophagus, which was resulting in food particles getting into his lungs.

Life-changing procedure—a first in New Jersey

After years of research and attempts to find doctors familiar with achalasia, Dennis’s fate changed when he was referred to Steven Gorcey, M.D., a board-certified gastroenterologist and chief of gastrointestinal endoscopy at Monmouth Medical Center, to discuss treatment options. Dr. Gorcey is one of a handful of endoscopic surgeons in the U.S. with the training necessary to perform highly effective procedures including combined endoscopic laparoscopic surgery.

Following further testing and consultations, Dr. Gorcey recommended that Dennis undergo POEM —a relatively new minimally invasive procedure performed by endoscopy and developed by a physician in Japan—to treat his achalasia. He thought about it and decided to move ahead, making Dr. Gorcey the first physician in New Jersey to perform the groundbreaking procedure.

“I’m confident that POEM will become the treatment of choice,” Dr. Gorcey says. “It’s a well-recognized form of ‘natural orifice translumenal endoscopic surgery’— a technique known by the acronym NOTES — and it’s accepted by surgical boards. With POEM , no surgical incisions are performed, complication rates are low and there are no eating restrictions following the procedure.”

With traditional surgery, patients would require incisions. They would need to stay on clear liquids for weeks and start solids four to six weeks later. And there would be a significant chance that symptoms would return.

Today, Dennis is reacquainting himself with solid food. “I feel lucky to be the first person in New Jersey to undergo this procedure,” he says. “This is better than winning the lottery. The POEM procedure is absolutely amazing. I feel energized.”