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Jacqueline Burning: Patient Story

Jacqueline Burning: Patient Story

Jacqueline Burning is an 81-year-old woman in good health, from Leicester, Massachusetts. However, in 2013, she began having trouble swallowing whenever she’d try to eat or drink and she was losing weight. She visited her primary care doctor. Tests revealed that she had developed a Zenker’s diverticulum.

Jacqueline received surgery to treat her ZD shortly thereafter. She was feeling much better, until one year later, when her symptoms returned. She went back to her primary care doctor who recognized she was losing weight again. She underwent a barium swallow x-ray, a test where you drink a barium-containing liquid, which coats the inside of the esophagus and makes its shape and contours appear, and it revealed that her ZD had returned. This time, her doctor referred her to Boston Medical Center’s Center for Voice & Swallowing to speak with otolaryngologist, Pieter Noordzij, MD about treating her ZD. Zenker's diverticulum (ZD) is a condition characterized by a pouch that develops in the upper esophagus, the tube that runs from the throat to the stomach. Symptoms may include discomfort/difficulty with swallowing, regurgitation of undigested food hours after eating, coughing or the feeling of food sticking in the throat after eating, aspirating food or liquid that enters the airway and causes choking or bleeding, bad breath, unexplained weight loss. ZD is normally caused by increased tension in the muscle at the top of the esophagus and this causes functional obstruction.

She was somewhat fearful about having the second surgery, because she’d already tried once before and it did not work. “Not being able to swallow properly, meant I could not eat a lot at all,” said Jacqueline. “I was extremely weak, unsteady on my feet and avoided a lot of social events. Going out to eat was out of the question. I could only eat a small spoonful at a time, otherwise I would choke. I was always worried and did not want to be embarrassed.” Her ZD was affecting her quality of life and she simply did not feel like herself.

After meeting Dr. Noordzij at BMC and discussing the procedure she was convinced that it was the best option for her. In September 2015, Jacqueline had minimally invasive surgery treat her ZD. The procedure was a success and within three months she regained weight and energy. 

“I would like anyone experiencing ZD to know that feeling better is possible and your life can change immensely, for the better, in a short amount of time,” says the mother of four and grandmother of seven. “Life is much more beautiful today.”