Jim Palmer, former player for the Baltimore Orioles, can be called one of the greatest pitchers in the history of baseball. He is the only pitcher in Major League history to have pitched a World Series game in each of the three decades he played. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1990, and was the only American League Hall of Fame pitcher to win the Cy Young Award three times. Jim Palmer’s days in the spotlight did not come to the end with the conclusion of his baseball career. He has since spent his time as a TV commentator, celebrity spokesperson, and author.
This long list of accomplishments classifies Jim Palmer as a very unique individual, however, he does have one thing in common with millions of other individuals – he has GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). He suffered from frequent and persistent heartburn for many years and thought it was normal. His diagnosis and subsequent treatment was delayed several years until his symptoms worsened and he finally consulted his doctor about it. As the spokesperson for an educational campaign to increase GERD awareness, he has tried to prevent others from making the same mistake he did. The goal is to raise public awareness and understanding about frequent and persistent heartburn associated with GERD.
As part of this campaign, Jim talked to the media and various organizations about his own personal struggle with heartburn associated with GERD. Heartburn associated with GERD occurs when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus, or food pipe. Frequent and persistent heartburn on two or more days a week may signal GERD. The following are excerpts from a speech given by Jim Palmer at a gathering of gastroenterologists.
“I have been sharing with the media my personal experience with frequent and persistent heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Since I began this campaign, I have found that more and more people are identifying their own experiences with frequent and persistent heartburn as reflux disease.
“I had frequent and persistent heartburn for many years during my baseball career. I thought it was normal, or that it was brought on by Earl Weaver, the manager of the Orioles. (We had a love/hate or hate/love sort of relationship.) Unfortunately, my problems with heartburn did not end with my baseball career. Earl Weaver was off the hook.
“Following my 20-year career with the Baltimore Orioles, I became a color commentator for the ABC and ESPN television networks. I normally ate late at night after broadcasting a game and invariably ended up with heartburn. I tried taking over-the-counter products to no avail. I also tried elevating my bed, avoiding the common heartburn food triggers like chocolate, caffeine, and tomatoes, and changing my eating habits in an effort to allow three hours between eating and going to bed. None of these efforts solved the problem.
“I did not worry too much about my heartburn until the acid reflux caused me to become increasingly hoarse while broadcasting. I tried resting my voice and self-medicating, for what I thought was a simple sore throat. These efforts were unsuccessful. Finally, after a media tour to promote my book that I wrote with Earl Weaver, Together We Were 11 Foot 9 Inches, I lost my voice (there were some fans in Baltimore who were happy about this). At this point my livelihood was at stake, so I went to see an ear, nose, and throat specialist. I had a thorough examination and learned that the problem was not with my throat per se but rather with acid reflux. My doctor referred me to a gastroenterologist who asked about my symptoms, did an endoscopy, and diagnosed me with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). He prescribed medication – a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) – for treatment of my condition.
“I certainly can’t speak for everyone, but I can tell you what my own experience has been with a PPI. My heartburn and other symptoms of GERD have been under control since taking one PPI capsule a day – except in those few cases where I forgot to take my medication and the heartburn returned. I now recognize that I suffered needlessly before getting the appropriate treatment.
“Before I was diagnosed with GERD and received the proper treatment, I was concerned that I would not be able to resume public speaking on a regular basis. As you might imagine, that could be the end of my career as a broadcaster. No voice. No job. Now, I’m happy to say that my hoarseness is gone and the frequent and persistent heartburn is no longer an issue for me. I’ve been taking prescribed medication since 1995 and it has made a world of difference in my life. I am glad to have an ongoing role in a campaign that is generating greater public awareness about the need to pay attention to frequent and persistent heartburn.
“It’s simple in baseball – three strikes and you’re out. The rule for frequent and persistent heartburn should be just as straight forward – if you’re having persistent heartburn on two or more days a week, see your doctor. That’s the key message that I drove home in media interviews in 1999 and will continue delivering in 2000.
“I now fully recognize that frequent and persistent heartburn is no laughing matter. We never realize the strength of stomach acid until it ends up in the wrong place. I recently learned about a wonderful patient organization for GERD sufferers – IFFGD, the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. I want to congratulate Nancy Norton for all of the organization’s hard work and efforts on behalf of gastrointestinal patients around the world.”