James Ritchie has played in plenty of roles over the years.

He was a Hollywood movie extra in Barbra Streisand’s “Hello Dolly,” and acted in New York City. He worked in Florida’s hospitality industry, too, before returning to his 40-acre family farm in Cedar Springs, Michigan.

There were more roles to fill back in West Michigan. He was involved with the Grand Rapids Civic Theater and the Community Circle Theater.

But in his most important role, Ritchie was a man facing an uncertain fate.

Only this time he wasn’t acting.

Barrett’s esophagus

Ritchie, 74, overcame the condition Barrett’s esophagus and ultimately avoided esophageal cancer, a disease that has rapidly increased in the U.S. during the past 30 years.

Like many men, Ritchie took the occasional chewable antacid for indigestion. But he never realized his heartburn was actually gastroesophageal reflux disease, commonly known as GERD.

“I had no idea what it was,” he said.

In fall 2013, Ritchie found himself at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital with severe internal bleeding, which may have been linked to the blood thinner he was taking to treat atrial fibrillation with congestive heart failure.

During an eight-day hospital stay, he met Praveen Sateesh, MD, a gastroenterologist who ran a series of tests and discovered Ritchie had Barrett’s esophagus with abnormal, pre-cancerous cells.

Dr. Sateesh began a series of radio frequency ablation treatments to prevent Ritchie from developing cancer.

“Radio frequency ablation delivers wave lengths to the esophagus that cause the abnormal cells to slough off. As the esophagus heals, it grows back normal cells,” Dr. Sateesh said. “It’s safe and easy and it doesn’t require much except the patient’s time.”

After five treatments over a year, Ritchie said he’s feeling terrific.

He now has to focus on keeping his GERD under control, to prevent Barrett’s esophagus from returning.

Healthy change

Although Dr. Sateesh generally recommends anti-reflux surgery for his patients, Ritchie is getting by with medication and lifestyle changes.

He takes Nexium twice daily, and he’s eating six small snacks a day instead of large meals. He’s even given up his penchant for Chinese buffets.

He also stays active. When the weather is good, he enjoys riding his bike from Cedar Springs to Grand Rapids, using the rails-to-trails path. During the winter he walks through his local Meijer store.

“I don’t drink. I don’t smoke,” Ritchie said. “And I’m very careful about what I eat. I just turned 74 and I have no cancer cells whatsoever.”

Learn more about gastroenterology at Spectrum Health.