Not two months ago, Terry Schickel coped with nausea and vomiting “just about every day of the week, all day long.”
For four years, he suffered from the disease gastroparesis, a crippling condition in which the stomach is all but paralyzed, causing it to empty very slowly. That can mean constant nausea, vomiting of undigested food, distention of the abdomen and an unwarranted feeling of fullness.
“I couldn't hold water down. Over the last four years, I've been in the ER or admitted to the hospital well over 20 times,” said Schickel, an electrician and Meridian resident.
In July 2016, Schickel heard about Dr. Hubert Spears, a surgeon at the University of Mississippi Medical Center Grenada. Spears' specialties include implanting in a patient's abdomen a gastric stimulator - much like a pacemaker - that sends small electrical pulses to the nerves and smooth muscle that line the wall of the stomach. The pulses encourage the stomach to contract, which causes it to empty.
It's not a cure, but the gastric stimulator can greatly ease symptoms and allow sufferers to regain their lives. Spears implanted Schickel's gastric stimulator March 9, and Schickel is optimistic about what the coming months will bring.
His symptoms have “probably been cut in half, for sure,” said Schickel, 36. “I stay overly full sometimes, and I'm a little nauseous on occasion. If I can get to where I only throw up once a week, I'd be happy.”
Spears is among a small handful of surgeons in Mississippi who implant gastric stimulators. Patients flock to him from the far corners of the state, plus surrounding states including Tennessee, Alabama and Arkansas. Spears has performed more than 100 of the procedures since 2015.
The device was pioneered more than two decades ago by Dr. Thomas Abell, an affiliate faculty member and former director of UMMC's Division of Digestive Diseases. Abell now is a world-recognized researcher and chair of gastroenterology in the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at the University of Louisville.