For the media

Specialized surgery helps patient enjoy food again

By The Health News Team | August 14, 2023
Jim Stevenson of San Diego

Patient Jim Stevenson is back to doing the thing he loves most — spending time in his orchard — thanks to a procedure offered at Sharp Grossmont Hospital.

While 60 to 70 million people in the U.S. have digestive diseases, living with the pain of gastrointestinal issues was not an option for Jim Stevenson. Over the course of roughly six months, Jim would enjoy a meal, only for it to be regurgitated soon afterwards, resulting in vomiting and discomfort.

After visiting his primary care doctor for a solution to his difficulty eating and keeping down food, Jim was referred to Dr. Michael Lajin, a gastroenterologist affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital.

“Mr. Stevenson is an 89-year-old who is in excellent health,” says Dr. Lajin. “But he had a severe spastic motility disorder [a disorder of the esophagus] resulting in dysphagia — or difficulty swallowing. This severely impaired his quality of life. He wanted to be able to eat in a natural way but could not. And he did not want a feeding tube. He got to a point where he was losing almost one pound a day.”

Dr. Lajin diagnosed Jim with achalasia, a rare swallowing disorder that affects the muscles of the esophagus. With this condition, the muscles do not contract properly to help push food down toward the stomach.

Additionally, Jim’s lower esophageal sphincter, a ring of smooth muscle connecting the esophagus to the stomach, did not relax properly, Dr. Lajin says. This prohibited the passage of food and liquids to the stomach. To treat this condition, Jim’s care team suggested a specialized procedure.

“Dr. Lajin was only one of three medical providers trained to do this procedure that I needed, specifically the E-POEM procedure, in the San Diego area,” says Jim. “I felt at ease knowing I was in good hands with Dr. Lajin.”

E-POEM procedure provides long-term relief

Esophageal per oral endoscopic myotomy (E-POEM) is a minimally invasive procedure that can restore a person’s ability to eat and drink without pain or regurgitation. Patients might also feel that it becomes easier to swallow, as well as experience long-term relief from chest pain that might have resulted from their condition. According to Dr. Lajin, the gastroenterology department at Sharp Grossmont Hospital was the first in San Diego to perform E-POEM.

During the E-POEM procedure, the gastroenterologist uses a narrow tube with a camera. The tube and camera are inserted through the mouth, and instruments are inserted through the tube to cut the spastic esophageal muscles as well as the lower esophageal sphincter, which controls the passage of food from the esophagus to the stomach.

“POEM is a minimally invasive endoscopic procedure and can be offered to an older patient with a great outcome,” says Dr. Lajin. “The patient underwent the procedure and had a smooth and excellent recovery. He gained back the weight he lost, and his quality of life was restored.”

“I was able to exercise, and I ate better afterward too,” adds Jim.

Along with exercise and enjoying foods again, Jim says he is also excited about returning to his other favorite activities, which his condition had limited.

“It is nice to once again golf and enjoy my orchard of blackberries and avocados,” Jim says. “I have Dr. Lajin, his team and my experience at Sharp Grossmont to thank for that.”

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For the news media: To talk with a Sharp Grossmont Hospital specialist about the E-POEM procedure, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at

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