Digestive device brings hope for a normal life
Read about Zack Groen's journey living with gastroparesis in The Columbian: Device gives Woodland man with digestive disorder hope for a new life.
Zack Groen wants a normal life. He wants to work, and he’d like a girlfriend to share his life. He wants to feel well so he can go have fun with friends. At 25, these markers of normal life have been out of reach.
His morning routine is anything but normal. He walks a familiar path from bedroom to bathroom. Rather than getting ready to go into the world, he spends hours a day dealing with digestive upset. Zack has gastroparesis, a condition that prevents his stomach muscles from emptying food into the small intestines.
Zack has hope his life will improve. That hope comes from a gastric stimulator device placed in his belly by a surgical robotics team at Legacy Mount Hood Medical Center. The gastric device tells the muscles of his stomach to get to work and squeeze food into his intestines.
The gastric device was implanted in April by Legacy Health surgeons Patrick Lehti, M.D. and Greg Starley, D.O. entirely using robotic surgery. “This gastric operation is the first fully-robotic assisted method of this kind in Oregon,” said Dr. Starley. Robotic assisted surgery is shown to reduce pain and recovery time for patients, and Zack’s recovery has gone well. “I feel more alive than I have in so long,” said Zack.
A history of digestive trouble
Zack’s digestive troubles started at age 6 with stomach pain and nausea. His symptoms got worse and over the next few years, he stopped eating, playing and growing. After numerous medical tests and examinations, he was diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune disease that affects digestion function. He was 11 and weighed 43 pounds when diagnosed. “He was so thin, and we were terrified he wouldn’t survive,” said his mother Nikki Groen.
Zack’s health improved with a special diet to manage celiac disease. He gained weight and started growing. He graduated high school, went to college, had a girlfriend, and worked. Life was moving forward.
At 19 Zack’s health began to rapidly deteriorate. His stomach pains returned. They increased to a point where he was so sick he could no longer work. He lost his girlfriend. He struggled with anxiety and depression as his routines and dreams slipped away.
Seeking answers and treatment
Zack and his family sought medical answers. They were referred to gastroenterologist Harald Schoeppner, M.D. at Legacy Mount Hood. “Gastroparesis is a horribly disabling condition because people are plagued by severe digestive symptoms,” said Schoeppner. “It’s like having morning sickness that just never ends. They have nausea, throw up, and have stomach pain every day,” he said.
Dr. Schoeppner recommended the gastric neuro-stimulator device and surgery after a gastric empty test confirmed gastroparesis and because intense medication therapy wasn’t a good option for Zack. “The gastric device is not a magic solution, but it improves symptoms for about 60-70 percent of patients,” said Schoeppner. “The device gives people hope to pursue their life despite a disabling disease,” said Schoeppner.
Zack’s outlook on life is improving. “I want to make something of myself.” Zach enjoys writing and says he has a lot to share. “I want to write and have a voice, so that people can hear what I’ve experienced and maybe my journey can help others,” he said. He wants to get out and live his life and not be consumed by his body’s illness. “I’m tired of sitting on the sidelines of life,” he said.
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