Can the esophagus heal on it's own?

A fellow caregiver asked...

my father had a surgery about 22 years ago on his esophagus, repaired with a mesh. on 9\2\2011 he was admitted to the hospital because it had tore durring the week and we didnt know it.. therefore, everything he had ate and drank, went into the chest cavitity. they did emergency surgery and sutured the esophagus as best they could. he became septic and they thought he was gonna die, so they just made him comfortable.. well he lived (thank the good Lord above),BUT the esophagus is still leaking today (9\26\2011). he has a chest tube to collect the drainage in his body and a tube in his stomach. they told us today that they would be giving him a feeding tube and sending him home as soon as they can get the tubes out of him.. my question (s) is: 1) can the esophagus heal on its own and how long will it take 2) how long can a person survive on a feeding tube (remember he was septic and they have it "contained") I know this is alot, but i'm lost here and dont know what to do or what to expect. oh, my father is 65yrs old

Expert Answer

Jennifer Serafin, N.P. is a registered nurse and geriatric nurse practitioner at the Jewish Homes for the Aged in San Francisco.

I am sorry that your father is having so much difficulty, as he is still so young. My first thought when reading your questions was that the doctors working on your father should have talked to you about what to expect now, especially since he survived the sepsis. So, please, before he goes home, have them talk with you again about his prognosis and ask them the same questions you have written here.

That being said, I have to say that my gut feeling on this is that his esophagus will never heal, which is why they are giving him a permanent feeding tube. You must understand that this means that your father will no longer be able to eat anything by mouth, as the food/ fluids he would take in would just leak out of his esophagus, causing another infection.

Because your father is young, he could survive on a tube feeding for many years. But, I must warn you that there are still risks from him having the tube. Some people with feeding tubes can have the formula go up the espophagus, which could cause the same issue with the infection. So, he may still have this happen again even with him not eating. Also, you have to ask yourself if your father would want a feeding tube, as this means he can no longer eat. This means he will never experience the pleasures of tasting food, or even sitting at a table, enjoying a meal. This is a hard life for many people to imagine. Also, you do not mention who will take care of your father, but I am sure he will need nursing help while he recovers. He will at least need someone to give him the tube feedings and make sure the tube is working properly.

I know this is a tough time for you and your father. I wish you luck, and please do not be afraid to talk to the doctors about your concerns.