It was late 2004 when Ray Williams went to the doctor for the first time complaining of severe headaches. “The physician asked if I hit my head, but I answered ‘no’ because I couldn’t remember,” explained Ray. “So I was treated for a sinus infection and sent home with some medications, but the pain got worse.”
In fact, Ray had hit his head – not once, but twice – and it was a coworker who helped jog his memory of the first event. It was a weekday afternoon when Ray, a real estate investor, met with a crew who was installing a stove at one of his properties. After bending down to look closer at the new appliance, he stood up to give the men his approval on the project. But before he could speak, he hit the back of his head on the cabinet above him.
“It was just like you see in the movies,” explained Ray. “The pain was horrific, and I was seeing stars all around me. But it was gone in a matter of minutes, so I really didn’t think anything of it.”
Shortly afterwards, Ray was working in his attic when he hit the back of his head again, this time on a rafter. The second blow catapulted his headaches and memory loss. And after returning to his physician for further evaluation, he was rushed in to emergency surgery to remove a subdural hematoma.
Almost immediately following the procedure, Ray developed achalasia, a disease that impairs the motion of the esophagus and its ability to push food into the stomach, and affects the valve between the esophagus and the stomach in a way that the valve does not open up. “The cause of achalasia is largely unknown, but I can’t help but think that the head injury is connected in some way,” Ray explained. “The symptoms of that – and a few other minor conditions – all developed at the same time during my treatment for the hematoma.
“My surgeon wanted to do a balloon procedure to open the valve between the esophagus and the stomach and allow food to pass, but when I read about the risks, I couldn’t do it. One out of every 20 people who had the surgery may develop injury to the esophagus.”
So instead, Ray and his long-time girlfriend, Laverna, began researching his condition and alternative procedures. “In my mind, I knew exactly what needed to be done. The valve needed to be opened. Mine wasn’t relaxing enough to even open and allow food through,” he said. “But I wasn’t about to accept open-chest surgery. It had to be laparoscopic, and it had to address the problem in its entirety.”
Midway through their research, Laverna developed an abdominal aortic aneurysm requiring urgent care. “All of the sudden, her health became my No. 1 priority. I couldn’t even think about getting treatment for my condition until she was healthy again,” he said. Following a complex procedure and extensive rehabilitation program, Laverna recovered and the two began focusing on finding a new surgeon for Ray.
“We came across a procedure that was performed by a renowned surgeon in California named Tom DeMeester, MD. He seemed very impressive, but I wanted to be treated closer to home,” Ray explained. “So we dug a little deeper and found Dr. Banki practically right in our own backyard at Memorial Hermann Southeast. It turned out she spent several years training under Dr. DeMeester during her fellowship and specialized in treating my condition.”
In 2009, Ray scheduled an appointment with Farzaneh Banki, MD, director of the Memorial Hermann Southeast Esophageal Disease Center and assistant professor of Cardiothoracic Vascular Surgery at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston.
“I came in with a list of questions about a mile long, and she answered every single one of them. I was impressed with that and was even more impressed when she recommended a procedure that could be performed at Memorial Hermann Southeast,” he said.
“I thought I would surely have to travel to the Texas Medical Center for surgery, but she said they had all the necessary equipment right there. I didn’t know much about Memorial Hermann Southeast before my first visit with Dr. Banki, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that this hospital had the best equipment in Houston for what I needed – and it was just eight miles away from my house.”
On Nov. 20, 2009, Ray underwent a laparoscopic heller myotomy to open the tight valve between the esophagus and the stomach and alleviate dysphagia, or trouble swallowing. A Dor fundoplication was also performed, wrapping portions of Ray’s stomach around his esophagus to prevent reflux.
“I had the procedure on a Friday and was home by Sunday afternoon,” said Ray. “It’s amazing to think that a three-day hospital stay cured four years of problems. Things have been just fine ever since, and I couldn’t be more grateful to have had such great care, so close to home.”