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Wednesday, April 19, 2023

A Tough Pill to Swallow

Posted By: Advancing Care

Most people don’t give any thought to the act of swallowing — much like our hearts pump blood and our lungs inhale oxygen, these are involuntary processes that we tend to take for granted. For Westchester Medical Center otolaryngology patient John, swallowing went from an automatic function to a problematic condition.

In 2020, John developed Zenker’s diverticulum, a rare condition that causes a pouch to form in the back of the esophagus. While it is typically seen in adults over 70, younger individuals can also be affected. Symptoms of Zenker’s diverticulum include difficulty swallowing and regurgitation of food particles, and in severe cases it can lead to aspiration pneumonia.

“At first, I didn’t pay much attention to my symptoms as they were mild and only occurred intermittently,” explained John. “I also have acid reflux, and initially assumed the occasional difficulty swallowing was a result of that condition.”

The Road to Recovery

David Garber, MD
David Garber, MD

Almost two years after his symptoms started, John made an appointment with a gastroenterologist to get some answers. After performing an upper endoscopy, his physician was unable to arrive at a definitive diagnosis. That’s when John connected with David Garber, MD, a board-certified otolaryngologist who specializes in voice and swallowing disorders, with WMCHealth Physicians: Advanced ENT Services.

“Dr. Garber explained everything to me in great detail, including the condition and treatment options,” John shared. “I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of surgery, but ultimately I decided that was my best option.”

Treatment for Zenker’s diverticulum can be endoscopic or surgical in nature. While the endoscopic procedure is less invasive, it’s not always successful in patients who have particularly large esophageal pouches. Surgery requires an external neck incision, meaning John would wind up with a visible scar. However, the surgical approach has a higher chance of resolving symptoms long term.

“One of the possible side effects of surgery is damage to the vocal cords. I was singing in three amateur choirs at the time of my diagnosis, and the idea of surgery definitely gave me pause,” John said. “But I chose the surgical approach because I didn’t want the pouch to come back in 10 -15 years, which is a possible result of the endoscopic procedure.”

After the surgery at Westchester Medical Center, John recovered quickly — he was slightly hoarse for a few days and had to stick to a liquid diet for one week, followed by a soft-food diet for another week, but he did not experience any complications. He credits his swift recovery to Dr. Garber and his clinical team.

“Dr. Garber’s bedside manner is second to none,” John said. “He takes the time to really listen to patients’ concerns and provides insightful answers to questions as they arise. I’m eternally grateful for his support and expertise.”

ENT Services Close to Home

If you are experiencing difficulty swallowing or other concerning symptoms of the ear, nose or throat explore care options provided by WMCHealth Physicians: Advanced ENT Services, which has multiple locations throughout the Hudson River Valley. Request an appointment by calling 914.693.7636 or through our secure online appointment form.