PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Ron Moore didn’t know why he was having such incapacitation stomach symptoms.

“Like once a week, I was in the emergency room, with vomiting and not being able to keep anything down,” Ron says. “They just thought I was having a lot of GERD.”

He saw a specialist who diagnosed gastroparesis, a complication of his diabetes.

“It’s where the stomach does not empty appropriately. So patients get early fullness when eating meals, they experience nausea, vomiting, and in extreme forms, they get hospitalized for dehydration,” says Allegheny Health Network surgeon, Dr. Balir Jobe.

Doctors can prescribe medicines to increase emptying. The next step would be procedures to loosen the muscle at the exit of the stomach.

“Gastroparesis is very hard to cure,” says Jobe. “Response to these therapies can be highly variable.”

Nothing was working for Ron. He was ready to try anything. That’s when Dr. Jobe brought up a new option — a gastric pacemaker.

Gastric Pacemaker (Credit: KDKA)

The battery pack sits in the upper abdomen with attached wires that are sutured into the stomach. The wires deliver impulses to the muscle and nerves of the stomach.

“Now, it’s not entirely clear how it works,” Dr. Jobe admits. “It’s thought it modulates the nerves that tell you that you’re nauseated.”

Under general anesthesia, the procedure takes about an hour and a half. After the gastric pacemaker is put it, it can be programmed and controlled by an external remote.

“It wasn’t painful or nothin’. I was off work for like two weeks,” says Ron. “I can barely feel the pacemaker in my stomach and everything.”

Ron had his put in three years ago. Already he needed a repeat surgery to change the battery.

“I thought, oh, just my luck,” he recalls. The average battery life is 7 years.

It’s not for people who have gastroparesis because of long term narcotics use.

Dr. Jobe does ten to 15 cases a year. People who have gastroparesis because of diabetes tend to do the best.

“The ones that we’ve put the stimulator in, by and large, have a great response. Because we’ve sort of learned how to select them.”

The FDA has allowed the use of the device since 1999, but it takes special arrangements. “This is a device that’s used on a humanitarian basis,” Jobe says.

As for Ron, he’s no longer taking stomach medicine, and his digestion is remarkably improved.

“It’s wonderful. I haven’t been to the emergency room or nothing, and I’m much happier.”

Dr. Maria Simbra