NJ Woman Finds Cure for Chronic Cough with Hiatal Hernia Surgery
November 15, 2023
With a terrible cough that had festered since 2018, Evon Terrell of Woodbridge, New Jersey, was running out of options for treatment—and running out of patience.
She saw multiple doctors, including pulmonologists and gastroenterologists, and received diagnoses from bronchitis to asthma to COVID-19. Still, no one seemed to know what was wrong or what to do about it. One doctor told her, “Some people just have to live with a cough.”
That wasn’t acceptable.
Then one day, Evon picked up HealthU magazine at home and saw an article featuring general surgeon Annie Laurie Benzie, M.D., who specializes in advanced gastrointestinal surgery at JFK University Medical Center.
She called to make the appointment with Dr. Benzie and says of that first meeting, “It was unbelievable. I thought, ‘Where have you been? I wish I’d found you sooner.’”
Quadruple Diagnosis: Acid Reflux, GERD, Laryngopharyngeal Reflux and Hiatal Hernia
Prior to seeing Dr. Benzie, Evon had been diagnosed with acid reflux, specifically gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), sometimes called heartburn. It’s a condition that causes the contents of the stomach—food or gastric acids—to travel in the wrong direction, back up instead of down, from stomach to esophagus. The muscle at the end of the esophagus doesn’t close properly, allowing a leak.
After a few more thorough diagnostics for Evon, Dr. Benzie determined that she also had laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR), when gastric content travels to the throat. It’s called silent reflux and may confusingly manifest as a sore throat or chronic cough like Evon’s. It is possible to have both GERD and LPR simultaneously, as Evon did.
She also had a hiatal hernia, caused when the upper part of the stomach bulges through an opening in the diaphragm, the muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen. The diaphragm helps keep acid from coming up into the esophagus.
Although Evon had been prescribed medication called a proton pump inhibitor to reduce stomach acid, “that didn’t fix the plumbing problem caused by the hiatal hernia,” says Dr. Benzie.
Long-term use of proton pump inhibitors can also compromise bone health and is associated with higher rates of osteopenia and osteoporosis. On top of that, chronic GERD can also increase the risk of esophageal cancer.
Dr. Benzie says hiatal hernia repair with fundoplication surgery to correct Evon’s GERD was needed to address all her issues. “Robotic fundoplication surgery takes the top part of the stomach and wraps it around the lower part of the esophagus, like a hot dog in a bun,” Dr. Benzie says. “That reinforces the valve mechanism of the lower esophageal sphincter, making it tighter and longer, allowing substances to go through it but not come back up.”
Back to Her Rewarding Life After Hernia Surgery
Evon’s surgery was a success, and she no longer needs a proton pump inhibitor.
“This procedure has been so life-changing,” she says. “Now I can drink orange juice—I couldn’t have it before, and I couldn’t have pineapple. I chew my food well now, and I feel my digestion is so much better.”
Evon says her son, his wife and two young granddaughters aren’t worried about her health anymore, and she’s relieved. She’s thrilled not to have to live with a chronic cough and to be able to enjoy relaxing, long walks outside in the park with her family.
Next Steps & Resources:
- Meet our source: Annie Laurie Benzie, M.D.
- To make an appointment with a gastroenterologist near you, call 800-822-8905 or visit our website.
- Learn more about gastroenterology services at Hackensack Meridian Health.
The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.