Pacemaker May Allow Teen With Paralyzed Stomach to Eat Again

PHOTO Gentrie Hansen, front, has been fed through an IV for seven months.

Gentrie Hansen hasn't had a bite of food since Christmas, diagnosed with gastroparesis, a rare disorder that has paralyzed her stomach.

For months, the 14-year-old Draper, Utah, girl, who was once an active dancer and cheerleader, has received her nutrition through an IV tube.

Gentrie still relishes food and often chews on microwaveable turnovers, but she must spit it out because her stomach cannot digest anything. As a result, her weight has dropped to 88 pounds from 112.

Family members are so worried about upsetting the teen with tantalizing cooking smells that they post a "closed" sign on the kitchen door and secretively eat cold sandwiches behind closed doors.

"She is still hungry," said Gentrie's aunt, Val Cutrer. "Food doesn't go through her stomach, but she still has hunger pains and food smells wonderful to her. She says it's like torture. She wants to eat and everything smells good, but every time she eats something it's instant, she's throwing up."

Gentrie has been hospitalized eight times in the past seven months and has met with six pediatric gastrointerologists. Now, tired and thin and nearly ready to give up, she has turned to doctors at " target="external">Nationwide Children's Hospital , in Columbus, Ohio.

Doctors Tuesday surgically inserted a temporary" target="external">gastric pacemaker in Gentrie's stomach. If she responds positively within a few days, the teen will get a permanent device that could allow her to enjoy food again.

"In her little mind, she is sure she is going to be fine," said Cutrer, 53 and a mother of five. "Those of us with experience are cautiously optimistic and hoping and praying this works for her."

The device works like a pacemaker in the heart, shocking it back to normal.

So far, Gentrie is doing well, according to her surgeon, Dr. Steven Teich

. "She's awake and progressing fine," he said.

Teich put two leads into her stomach and hooked them to a temporary external pacemaker to see if Gentrie gets better.

"The pacemaker directly stimulates the muscle and the nerves that are not firing," he said. "Once it starts, it can go through the muscles and work all the way down."

Nationwide is the only hospital in the country with specialists in gastroparesis and where this somewhat experimental surgery is performed on children.

Teich has done five permanent surgeries since last fall and two temporary ones that will be permanent. All are now able to eat real food, although in more frequent and smaller amounts.

Five more surgeries are scheduled through August.

If Gentrie's surgery is successful, she will have her pacemaker replaced every five years when the battery runs out.

Pacemaker Sends Impulse to Stomach

"It gives an electrical impulse to the stomach, which can spread out like how a pacemaker works in the heart," Teich said. "It starts an electrical wave that goes down the stomach. That's what she is missing. The way the stomach works is complicated and it helps to push things through."

The Food and Drug Administration approved use of gastric pacemakers in adult patients with gastroparesis in 1997. But because few studies exist on those younger than 18, its use is still "humanitarian" on children, Teich said.

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