Woodbridge Woman Gets Life Back After Hiatal Hernia Surgery   

Woodbridge Woman Gets Life Back After Hiatal Hernia Surgery

Kally Durso and her husband smiling.

March 27, 2024

At first, Kally Durso thought she had an ulcer that could be cured by medication. She endured excruciating pain in the center of her abdomen due to heartburn, along with vomiting and difficulty swallowing. Kally was prescribed a medication called a proton pump inhibitor or PPI to help with her symptoms. Although it helped her swallowing, her nagging heartburn continued.

An endoscopy to look at her upper digestive tract revealed a hiatal hernia. This occurs when a portion of the stomach extends into the chest through an opening of the diaphragm muscle that helps with breathing.

Kally was even having difficulty eating and was losing some weight unintentionally.

In April 2023, Kally, who works as a learning disabilities teacher consultant, was referred to Aziz Merchant, M.D., bariatric and general surgeon atJFK University Medical Center who specializes in hiatal hernia. She finally was given some hope for relief.

Wanting Her Health Back

“With a hiatal hernia, you must be careful about what you eat, and you may constantly have to turn away foods you really want because they may get stuck and increase the risk of choking,” Dr. Merchant says.

The condition is very uncomfortable because stomach acid “burns” over the esophagus. “The stomach is designed to handle acid to break down our food, but the esophagus isn’t,” he says. “The valve between the esophagus and stomach should close to stop that acid from coming up, but a hiatal hernia prevents that from happening.”

Hiatal hernia surgery is often needed to correct this. “The idea here is to take something that, over time, has become abnormal, and return it to its normal anatomy,” Dr. Merchant says. “I think of it like a puzzle that has been put together incorrectly, and I need to put the pieces back.”

Kally admits that she was nervous the first time she heard the word “surgery.” But at the time, her abdomen was so uncomfortable, and swallowing so difficult, that she had to take 10- to 15-minute breaks between bites. “Sometimes I thought I couldn’t breathe well, and I would panic. I also stayed away from rice, most bread, pizza and steak—anything that could possibly get stuck,” she says.

The fear and inconvenience got in the way of the joy of her productive daily life, she says. “I had one son who’d gotten married, and the other was having a baby,” she says. “I wanted my health back.”

She chose to go ahead with the procedure. Because Dr. Merchant performs the hiatal surgery using a minimally invasive technique, he explains that recovery is generally smooth and much quicker than with traditional open surgery.

Support and Reassurance Through Recovery

Kally says she experienced some postoperative pain and that the journey to recovery wasn’t easy. “I started on a liquid diet, with foods like chicken broth, and it took me a while to get acclimated to real food again—I was very cautious,” she says.

But throughout the entire experience, she says, Dr. Merchant provided support and reassurance. “Dr. Merchant was amazing—the way he handled everything. He put my mind at ease, and that made the process very smooth,” Kally says.

With so much going on with her family, a characteristically busy Kally says she’s ready to return to her exercise routine of walking and going to the gym.

Dr. Merchant says Kally continues to improve consistently. “She’s made a remarkable turn for the better,” he says.

Next Steps & Resources

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.


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