Dr. Jay Aiken has been conducting music since he was in ninth grade. Music is his life and his livelihood. Nothing brings him more joy than performing and conducting.
But one morning in July 2018, he discovered all of that came to a halt.
“I woke up and had laryngitis,” he said.
At first, the then-music director at Edgefield United Methodist Church thought his voice problems were only temporary. As time went by, his voice did not come back. His ENT physician and well-known voice expert, Dr. Gregory Postma suspected he had gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). While 80% of the U.S. population experiences acid reflux once a year, 15 to 30% of the population have GERD with reflux symptoms at least on a weekly basis.
“For almost one solid year, I suffered where the reflux was so bad that it would come up and literally coat my vocal cords, and I could not sing above middle C. Once I did, it would be scratchy or cracked, or there would be nothing there.”
For someone whose singing voice is such a big part of who he is, Aiken was determined to rid himself of his GERD.
“I just couldn’t believe what was going on,” the North Augusta resident said. “I took steroids, I did everything I could to reduce inflammation in my chords. It was frustrating not to be able to sing. I felt miserable because this is what I love.”
The reflux had done tremendous damage to his vocal cords: “If you don’t have the cords, you can’t produce the sound, and that’s horrible.”
After the suspicion of GERD arose, Aiken consulted with Dr. Amol Sharma, a gastroenterologist at Augusta University Health. In April, he underwent an endoscopy and further diagnostic testing to confirm the diagnosis of GERD.
Since Aiken had refractory symptoms despite many changes to his diet and lifestyle, and multiple medications to relieve his GERD, Sharma recommended he undergo a procedure known as Stretta.
“Compared to other GERD treatment procedures on the market, I prefer Stretta for my patients because it is safe, effective and doesn’t leave any foreign bodies in this very critical area of your body, where important structures such as the heart and lungs live,” Sharma explained.
The outpatient procedure takes about an hour, a Stretta catheter is placed into the mouth and treats the muscular valve between the stomach and esophagus with radiofrequency energy. This procedure regenerates the natural reflux barrier and results in significant reduction of GERD symptoms.
“Two sets of four small needles deliver heat about the temperature of a cup of coffee in multiple locations in your esophagus and upper stomach,” Sharma said. “The Stretta catheter has evolved and developed a number of enhanced safety features such as generators at the base of every needle that detect certain parameters and will shut off automatically if needles are out of place to minimize harm.”
Sharma told Aiken he would see results in about 30 days. Instead, “After five days, I had no problems at all,” he said.
Aiken’s life is back in full swing. He is now the Music Director at St. Mark United Methodist church in Augusta, as well as the Artistic Director for the Columbia County Choral Society.
“My reflux is so under control now that I can sing again!” he said. “I remember belting out a high note the other day and thinking ‘I can sing again!’ It’s been a year!”
Aiken continues to watch what he eats, avoiding acidic food and drinks.
In the meantime, he’s enjoying using his voice more than ever: “Some days, it’s even better than it was before!”