10-year hiccuper gets relief -- but only for week

Surgery stopped spasms temporarily

March 23, 2000|By Gary Dorsey | Gary Dorsey,SUN STAFF

Fifty-four-year-old Robert Harrison of Seat Pleasant suffered with intractable hiccups for 10 years.

He wasted some of those years on home remedies. He tried holding his breath, drinking water, puffing into paper bags. He tried medications. Nothing worked.

In January, he had surgery at Washington Hospital Center and went home a happy man. Yesterday, the hospital sent out a news release: "Patient Suffering Hiccups For Ten Years Is Relieved."

Meanwhile, Harrison was stretched out at home in Prince George's County with -- guess what? -- the hiccups.

"Oh man, it felt good," he said, recalling the seven days of relief.

Between staggered breaths, he sounded miserable with the sudden prospects that the next decade could be like the last.

"I couldn't really go nowhere," said Harrison, a tile layer for Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. "It made me feel so sick, if I'd get out somewhere, had an attack, I had to go home."

Dr. Mark Soberman, chief of thoracic surgery at Washington Hospital Center, placed a pacemaker in Harrison's chest to control impulses in the phrenic nerve, a brain-to-diaphragm nerve that causes the spasms that trigger hiccups.

In January, Soberman made a small incision in Harrison's chest, slipped an electrode around the nerve and stitched it in place.

He attached a wire to the electrode and tucked it snugly under his skin. It is not a particularly difficult procedure, the surgeon said.

A technician from Bell Labs traveled from New York to observe the surgery, then, a few weeks later, installed the pacemaker on Harrison's chest that wirelessly transmits pulses to fire the electrode and stops the annoying hiccup reflex.

It worked for a week, Harrison said.

"I didn't really trust it," he said, gulping for air.

What about Dr. Soberman?

"I'm going to have to give him a call."

Harrison's pacemaker probably just needs an adjustment, a spokesman for the doctor's office said.

A technician is to test it this morning.

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