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Nick Masson's Story

Nick Masson

“Everyone at NewYork-Presbyterian was awesome. They're amazing doctors and great caregivers, and that's all you can ask for.”

As a stage actor, a raspy voice was the last thing that Nick Masson needed. Ever since college, he had lived with heartburn — technically termed "gastroesophageal reflux disease" (GERD) — where acid from his stomach bubbled up into his esophagus. In 2016, he became the first patient at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center to receive a revolutionary GERD treatment that changed his life.

For years, his symptoms were relieved by over-the-counter medications called proton pump inhibitors, like omeprazole, which decrease the acid made by the stomach. He had a hiatal hernia, where the upper part of his stomach bulged through an opening in his diaphragm. By 2006, his symptoms got worse and resulted in a prescription for the drug dexlansoprazole, which worked much better.

In 2011, Nick learned he also had celiac disease, which led to weight loss as he figured out what he could and could not eat. By avoiding gluten in his diet, watching how and what he ate, and continuing to take dexlansoprazole, he began to feel better — just in time for his wedding that year.

"But by 2013, my reflux symptoms came back with a vengeance," recalls Nick, now 38 and also a commercial real estate professional. "I'd eat something around 1 in the afternoon and still be burping it up at 8 or 9 PM."

Food would get stuck in his esophagus, and sometimes he would throw it back up. A visit to Dr. Felice Schnoll-Sussman, a gastroenterologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center's Jay Monahan Center for Gastrointestinal Health, led to tests that showed he had a large amount of acid regurgitating back up into his esophagus and the beginnings of esophagitis — inflammation of the esophagus.

Having exhausted all medical approaches to his GERD, Nick was referred to NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell thoracic surgeon Dr. Nasser Khaled Altorki, who told him about LINX — a new GERD treatment. The device is a small expandable band of magnetic beads that is wrapped around the base of the esophagus, just above the stomach, during minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery. The magnetic attraction between the beads keeps it closed when Nick isn't eating, and the band expands when food and liquid pass through to the stomach.

"I like to call it my titanium Tiffany bracelet that my esophagus gets to wear," says Nick.

He had the surgery on May 2, 2016, and it was a success, leaving him with very small incisions. After two days in the hospital, Nick went home and had to relearn how to eat and drink. He needs to consume food and liquids more slowly than in the past, but the device has dramatically improved his quality of life and freed him from a lifetime of medications.

"If I'm foolish and I have something spicy or acidic, especially late at night after a show, I might feel a little heartburn in the morning — but it's manageable," he explains. He now sees Drs. Altorki and Schnoll-Sussman once a year for follow-up care.

Life is more comfortable now for Nick, who lives with his wife, Katie, and their young son, Jack, in Queens.

"Everyone at NewYork-Presbyterian was awesome," he asserts. "Dr. Altorki and Dr. Schnoll-Sussman really know what they're doing. They're amazing doctors and great caregivers, and that's all you can ask for."