July 16, 2008

Center Offers Treatment for Swallowing Disorders

By Jamie Durant, Florence Morning News, S.C.

Jul. 16--Marion Regional Healthcare System now has equipment that enables staff members to treat swallowing disorders that normally would require patients to travel to Charleston or Greenville.

The system, Fiberoptic Endoscopic Evaluation of Swallowing (FEES), was purchased by the hospital in March.

So far, hospital staff have been learning to use the system and practicing on volunteers, but are looking forward to the first patient who will be helped by the FEES system, said Gina Jones, vice president of support services.

"We have a high rate of stroke in the Pee Dee and in this county, so this equipment will help us in the treatment and the diagnosis of any swallowing disorder they may have," Jones said.

Jones said they are pleased to add the new technology to the hospital and she hopes it will bring in some new patients to the facility.

"We hope everyone in Florence will be sending their (stroke) patients here for this," she said. "When you have a swallowing disorder, this way you can know ahead of time what consistency of food to give them."

The FEES system is transportable, allowing the tests to be performed at the bedside of a recent stroke victim and reducing the chances of aspiration, Jones said.

Tracy Lambert, a certified speech pathologist with Marion Regional Healthcare System, recently completed the training needed to use the system. She said getting the system has enabled them to treat patients for whom the traditional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) method of diagnosing swallow problems was not an option.

"We've had a few cancer patients who could not tolerate any more radiation, so we had to send them out (to another facility that had the FEES system)," she said.

The system is used trans-nasally, and it allows therapists to observe how the patient swallows food and drink in a real time setting, Lambert said.

"The scope has a camera on it and we pass it through the nose so we can watch for problems," she said.

Lambert said swallowing disorders, also called dysphagia, often affect stroke victims, people with brain injuries or neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis.

The FEES system uses bread and milk colored green with food coloring to show what happens when a person is eating or drinking. The material is supposed to fall behind the vocal cords to reach the stomach. But in people with dysphagia, the food or milk can go into the vocal chords, where it is aspirated into the lungs.

Any time food or drink gets into the lungs, it can lead to pneumonia, Lambert said.

"We have several different methods (to treat dysphagia)," she said. "It depends on how it is, but we can treat almost all swallowing disorders."


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