Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: A patient who had trouble swallowing for over a decade has become the first in Abu Dhabi to benefit from a non-invasive procedure that is now being offered at the Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City (SSMC).

The Z-POEM procedure helps treat Zenker Diverticulum (ZD), a rare and complex condition in which a pouch forms at the back of the throat. If left untreated, food and saliva can become trapped in it over time, making it increasingly difficult to swallow and nourish.

Painful condition

The patient who was treated at the hospital in its first Z-POEM procedure, Awatif Bashir, had had trouble swallowing, and could not enjoy her meals, SSMC said in a statement on Monday. She would often cough and choke and also had difficulty breaking. In addition, food would get stuck in her oesophagus, and move into her windpipe. As a result of her discomfort, Bashir eventually began avoiding solid foods and switched to a liquid diet.

SSMC recommended the minimally invasive option to her as her condition was diminishing the quality of her life.

“Swallowing disorders significantly impact both the quality of life and nutrition. SSMC now offers Z-POEM to our patients as a minimally invasive alternative to the traditional surgical approach. Keyhole endoscopic procedures, such as Z-POEM, result in quicker recovery. It can be performed as an outpatient procedure, or with patients spending a night for observation, as was the case with this particular patient,” said Dr Michael Wallace, chair of gastroenterology and hepatology at SSMC.

After the procedure, it took three to four weeks for Bashir’s oesophagus to revert to a relatively normal state where she could swallow regular foods, meat, bread, vegetables, and fruit.

“We are thrilled to be able to offer our patients these minimally invasive, cutting-edge procedures through multidisciplinary teamwork with good outcomes, short hospitalisations, high patient satisfaction, and excellent functional results,”’ said Dr Alain Sabri, chair of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at the hospital.

Patient satisfaction

“The disease interfered with my daily life. I could not sleep properly due to excessive phlegm in my throat and coughing. Every time I ate, I felt like choking and could not breathe. I started avoiding fibre-rich meals because of this. It was too embarrassing to eat outside with friends and relatives because of the difficulty in swallowing,” Bashir explained.

“Today, I can eat a normal meal with my loved ones, and I am leading a healthy, normal life indulging in foods I have avoided for a long time. I am grateful to the team at SSMC for bringing this joy and quality back to my life and for their continuous support throughout my treatment at the hospital,” she added.

Looking ahead

Led by Dr Wallace and Dr Sabri, a dedicated team of gastroenterologists, otolaryngology-head and neck surgery (ENT) consultants, nurses, anesthesiologists, radiologists, nutrition experts, internists, and speech and language/swallowing therapists were involved in ensuring the procedure was carried out successfully.

“Good follow-up and treatment will ensure that the symptoms won’t return,” Dr. Wallace said.

“Zenker’s Diverticulum is a good example of a rare condition for which we’ve developed expertise. At SSMC, we are dedicated to bringing life-changing advancements, research, and discoveries, actively applying novelty to the care delivered to our patients one at a time, and elevating the standard of care through breakthrough innovation. We identify capacity gaps and needs in the health care services in the emirate, and invest in the right infrastructure and resources to address those needs. Our goal is to support bringing trust to health care delivery in Abu Dhabi and keep residents and citizens from traveling abroad for treatment,” said Dr. Matthew Gettman, chief medical officer at SSMC.