Linda Hudson-Smith is no stranger to medical care. By age 56, she had undergone four complex surgeries involving abdominal incisions and had recently completed a third procedure to repair a hiatal hernia as a result of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

To compound her condition, Linda had also developed Barrett’s esophagus, a complication of GERD in which the tissue lining the esophagus is damaged and replaced by tissue similar to the lining of the intestine. She was now considered a high-risk patient for future surgical procedures and was desperately seeking a long-term resolution to the multitude of medical issues she faced.

“Many people don’t realize just how debilitating GERD can be for some individuals,” said Farzaneh Banki, MD, director of the Esophageal Disease Center at Memorial Hermann Southeast Hospital and assistant professor of Cardiothoracic Vascular Surgery at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston. “Patients with severe cases can have a quality of life similar to those suffering from heart failure. When I began treating Linda, her condition was on par with some of the most complex.”

Her condition started to deteriorate shortly after her third hiatal hernia repair at another hospital. At the time, she could hardly swallow, and when she could, she either immediately regurgitated what was just ingested or her stomach burned like fire.

“Even though I was in a tremendous amount of discomfort, I was reluctant to seek further care,” she explained. “I was tired of being poked and prodded, only to end up with the same result – excruciating, recurring pain. I had reached a point where I was rapidly losing faith in the medical community.”

The problem continued to deteriorate, and after three long years, she finally returned to her gastroenterologist, Manish Rungta, MD. He immediately performed an upper endoscopy to examine the lining of the esophagus, stomach, and the first portion of the small intestine known as the duodenum.

Just as Linda experienced three times before, the results indicated that the Barrett’s esophagus had worsened and she had yet another hiatal hernia. This time, she was experiencing a paraesophageal hiatal hernia.

Linda’s stomach was pushing through an opening in the diaphragm and up into her chest, beside her esophagus. Surgery was once again recommended for treatment, but different than before, Dr. Rungta offered a new surgeon for Linda to consider: Dr. Banki.

“Despite his suggestion, I felt some loyalty to the general surgeon who performed the three prior procedures and wasn’t’ sure if I was ready to see someone new,” said Linda. “I ultimately chose to return to my previous surgeon, but once I arrived to my appointment, he, too, recommended that I see Dr. Banki.”

“It angered me that he wouldn’t care for me, and I couldn’t understand his reasoning. But I was also ready for my pain to end, so I put my stubbornness aside and finally agreed to see Dr. Banki. I didn’t know it then, but I had just taken my first steps on the road to recovery.”

Dr. Banki, who focuses on benign and malignant diseases of the foregut and lungs, spent more than two hours with Linda during her first appointment. “Within a matter of minutes, it seemed as if Dr. Banki could see straight to my soul. I got the feeling she knew what I had to say before I even said it,” explained Linda. “Although I tried to hold on to my hardened stance, it slowly slipped away. My trust in physicians was very jaded, but something told me that Dr. Banki was different.”

Linda immediately underwent all of the recommended pre-procedure tests and scheduled a fourth operation to repair the hiatal hernia. “Dr. Banki called me every night in the days leading up to my surgery, asking me how I was doing both physically and emotionally. She knew this surgery was a huge step for me, and she devoted every part of herself and her skills to get me through it.”

On Sept. 17, 2009, Linda underwent the seven-and-a-half-hour procedure. Through an incision in the abdomen, Dr. Banki was able to correct the anatomy, reduce the hernia, and repair the opening in the diaphragm that was allowing the hernia to push into Linda’s chest.

“My husband and I were very impressed with Dr. Banki and the staff of caregivers at Memorial Hermann Southeast Hospital Hospital. Dr. Banki was right there to see me through every step of my recovery. My surgery was two years ago, and she still checks on me.”

Today, Linda is able to swallow normally and keep foods and liquids down. She still suffers from gastrointestinal conditions unrelated to GERD, but her faith in the medical community has been restored. “I have never met another physician who has done anything comparable to what I’ve experienced with Dr. Banki,” said Linda. “She’s my angel, and I don’t know where I would be without her.”

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