Luling man’s stomach moved to chest after freak injury
Doctors had to remove David Walters’ esophagus after it was ruptured during a freak injury. Walters, shown above with his wife Laurie, now has to wear a backpack filled with liquid food that is fed into a tube near his stomach.
The 45-year-old Luling resident had been a radiology technician for 20 years and ran several radiology units across the region. He was working at Plaquemines Medical Center in Port Sulphur when his painful ordeal began.
Although he had been nauseated throughout the day, Walters had continued to work. It was only after he began to vomit that he realized the situation was much more serious than he originally thought.
“I threw up the second time and the pain was just absolutely incredible, it was worse than anything I’d ever felt before. I knew something was wrong,” he said.
Walters was experiencing the very rare Boerhaave syndrome, which caused his esophagus to rupture. Boerhaave syndrome occurs when extreme pressure is put on the esophagus during vomiting, which forces a tear to develop. Of those who experience the serious condition, 25 percent of them die within the first 24 hours.
Walters was rushed to the hospital.
Immediately upon arrival at Ochsner, Walters was prepared for surgery. The speed with which doctors approached the matter was a surprise to Walters’ wife, Laurie, who had not yet grasped that her family’s life was about to change forever.
“They had to place chest tubes to catch all of the drainage that was now going through his body and he had to go on a ventilator because he couldn’t breathe on his own. As he is in the emergency room waiting, he is getting sicker and sicker,” Laurie said.
In the first surgery, a stent was inserted into Walters’ esophagus to try and stop leakage from the tear in order to stabilize him. Afterward, he was sent to a throat specialist at Ochsner’s main campus in Jefferson.
“We got him into the hands of a thoracic surgeon who then took him into a 10-hour surgery,” Laurie said.
During that surgery, Walters’ esophagus had to be removed. “What was left of the esophagus was a small tip. They had to bring it out and divert it out onto his chest wall in an open bag to drain,” Laurie said.
Walters said going from being a health care provider to a patient was a big change for him.
“I swore I’d never be on a ventilator. I had chest tubes, a catheter...everything,” he said.
Walters spent an entire month in the hospital before being able to return home. Three months later he had to undergo another surgery to stretch his stomach to the top of his throat to replace the esophagus.
“They just pull it up there and staple it off, so it is right there,” Walters said, pointing to his chest.
Walters is now more susceptible to infections and easily contracts pneumonia due to fluid building up in his lungs.
Because his stomach is now stretched out, it does not have the ability to absorb nourishment like it once did.
“I can eat something and stand on my head and it will all fall right out,” Walters said. “I bent over one time to put my shoes on and food fell out. It is pretty gross.”
Stomach acid has also eroded Walters’ teeth and he has to get replacements.
While Walters was undergoing treatment, any thought of working was quickly dismissed. Now, four years later, he has lost nearly 30 pounds, a six-inch scar is visible on his neck where his esophagus was at one time rerouted and he has to carry a bag of liquid food on his back at all times that continuously feeds into a tube in his stomach.
In the years since his freak injury, Walters’ twin boys have graduated from Hahnville High School and his stepson has graduated from Rummel. The couple’s last school-age child is going off this fall to the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts to finish her high school career.
Meanwhile, the family was forced to move from their home in Ama to a townhouse in Mimosa Park after being decimated by medical bills.
“We lost our house, our cars, pretty much anything you have to maintain,” Laurie said.
Although he is functionally disabled, Walters said he is ready to return to work, but he cannot go back to being a radiology technician.
“I would like to get back to work sometime, but I can’t do what I was doing before. I don’t have the stamina to go that long. I could maybe just work an hour or two at a time. My doctor is giving me permission to do part-time light duty work. I’m sure there is something I can do, working for 911 answering a phone or something like that,” he said.
A fundraiser was held to help with Walters’ medical expenses last weekend. Monetary donations can be made at any Whitney Bank by making a deposit into the Angels Touching Lives account. You may also donate online at www.AngelsTouchingLives.org.
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