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Alberta introduces minimally invasive procedure for swallowing disorder

Edmonton's Royal Alexandra Hospital in April 2024. (Darcy Seaton/CTV News Edmonton) Edmonton's Royal Alexandra Hospital in April 2024. (Darcy Seaton/CTV News Edmonton)

Albertans needing treatment for a rare swallowing disorder can now get treatment in the province.

Gastroenterologists and thoracic surgeons at Edmonton's Royal Alexandra Hospital and Calgary's Foothills Medical Centre recently started offering a minimally invasive procedure to help with achalasia, which is a neuromuscular disorder that creates an excessive tightness of the muscle between the esophagus and the stomach.

For some people, it can become so severe, they cannot swallow their own saliva.

The procedure is known as peroral endoscopic myotomy (POEM).

For years, Albertans with achalasia have been referred out of province if they were eligible for a non-surgical procedure.

Doctors performed the first POEM procedure in Alberta in October at the Foothills Medical Centre. Since then, 15 other patients in both cities have had the procedure.

Dr. Clarence Wong, a gastroenterologist who along with Dr. Scott Johnston this year performed the first POEM procedure in Edmonton, said helping patients go "back to normal."

"The other part is I love it when I can treat patients quickly as an outpatient," Wong told media on Wednesday.

"The system is so bogged down, we don't have that many hospital beds for the sickest of patients, so anything that we can do, it actually saves the system money as well."

It’s estimated 60 patients will now be able to undergo the procedure each year in Edmonton and Calgary.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Darcy Seaton and Stephanie Holmes Top Stories

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