As an NCAA Division I soccer player at Wright State University, 19-year-old Maddie Jewell is loving life and the two things that fill most of her time: playing goalie and the academics involved with her major, neuroscience.
It's a wonder she's doing either, given what she went through during the five years before. In eighth grade, Maddie began experiencing heartburn and nausea, which was diagnosed as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The condition occurs when stomach acid or stomach content flows back into the esophagus, known as reflux.
By the time she was ready to start her senior year at Lakota West High School in West Chester Township, Ohio, GERD had a stranglehold on her life. Tests hadn't provided any answers to what was causing the condition, and medications her doctor tried hadn't helped.
"I had the burning sensation of heartburn constantly," recalls Maddie. "I was getting only three to four hours of sleep a night because I'd wake up with it or throw up."
Her diet consisted of bland, small meals, which she struggled to keep down. Eventually, she lost 50 pounds.
Unfortunately, what she loved the most was what made her feel the worst.
"Playing soccer made the GERD really bad," she says. "Goalkeepers dive after balls a lot, and the movement and impact made it worse."
Maddie finds hope and an answer
In the summer of 2015, she saw Dr. Michael Kreines, a gastroenterologist who practices at The Christ Hospital. That's when she also saw a glimmer of hope.
"Dr. Kreines was awesome," says Maddie. "He made it clear we were going to figure this out and that he was going to find an answer for me."
During the fall, Dr. Kreines prescribed a different medication, hoping it would give her relief. In the meantime, she did her best to focus on getting through her last year of high school. It was tough on all fronts—the medication wasn't working.
"Most of my classmates thought I had a bad case of senioritis," she says. "I missed so much school, and my grades suffered."
Maddie admits that getting through her senior soccer season was a mental battle.
"I got sick after practices a lot," she recalls. "Before games, I had to tell myself, 'Be here for an hour and a half. Do the best you can.' I wanted to push through because I love soccer. I couldn't imagine my life without it."
She had already committed to play soccer at Wright State, but after her season ended, she and her parents, Jill and Kyle, didn't know how she would be able to live a college life, even aside from soccer. But Maddie still believed an answer was out there.
In January, Dr. Kreines made good on his promise to find it. He had Maddie undergo esophageal pH monitoring, a test her previous doctors discussed but opted not to use. The test measures how often stomach acid enters the esophagus and how long it stays there.
Results showed that Maddie's stomach acidity was higher than normal. Her esophagus also wasn't closing the way it should to prevent stomach acid from flowing up. Reflux was almost constant.
In March, Dr. W. Boyd Crafton, a surgeon practicing at The Christ Hospital performed anti-reflux surgery (fundoplication). The procedure reinforces the end of the esophagus with a portion of the stomach, strengthening the valve between the esophagus and stomach to keep acid from flowing up. Dr. Crafton also repaired a hernia, which had made Maddie's GERD symptoms worse.
Although she admits recovery was hard—"I didn't realize how much you use your abs!"—Maddie says she felt healed by graduation. She spent the summer getting back into soccer shape and was ready to hit the field when her college season began.
She showed she was also ready to hit the books. She earned a spot on the dean's list her first semester, getting in academic shape to meet the demands of studying needed for her career choice.
"I know I want to be a doctor," she says. "It's because of this experience. I know how much the doctors changed my life. I want to do the same for others."
Learn more about why The Christ Hospital is recognized among the Top 50 hospitals in the nation for digestive disorders.