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LewisGale Swallowing Clinic Success Story

Tim O’Brien and his dad own and operate the popular downtown Salem restaurant, O’Brien’s. For Tim, preparing and serving good food is truly important.

Tim also enjoys eating delicious meals. Each year he looks forward to family holiday dinners, especially the turkey and his wife’s chestnut stuffing. But in February 2003, after nearly a year of suffering from severe headaches, Tim was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor. Although the tumor was removed successfully through surgery, it left him with a serious neuromuscular complication – the inability to swallow.

Tim was not alone. An estimated 15 million people in the United States have the medical condition known as dysphagia -- difficulty or pain in swallowing. More than one million new cases occur annually. And nearly 600 deaths occur each year as a result of complications from the disorder.

Dysphagia is often managed medically through the use of a PEG (percutaneous endoscopic gastronomy) tube that causes personal discomfort, inconvenience, and a reduction in quality of life for patients. For several months Tim O’Brien’s meals consisted of liquids and pureed foods consumed through a PEG feeding tube.

Fortunately for Tim and many other patients like him, in September LewisGale Medical Center became the first facility in Virginia to offer a breakthrough treatment for dysphagia. Known as VitalStim Therapy, it is a painless, non-invasive treatment that uses specialized neuromuscular electrical stimulation to strengthen the muscles of the throat.

“After just five VitalStim treatments Tim was able to swallow soft foods comfortably,” says Tim’s wife, Yvonne. “And after only 10 sessions his swallowing reflex was completely restored. He could eat absolutely anything he wanted.”

Tim’s feeding tube was removed in early November and on Thanksgiving Day Tim enjoyed his favorite dessert – pecan pie. “VitalStim Therapy changed my life,” states Tim.