Imagine living with a never-ending stomach ache. Patients typically suffer through dozens of tests with no diagnosis. Some are even suspected of having an eating disorder. But one doctor is providing answers and relief to patients who have nowhere else to turn.

Susannah is a little girl who was forced to give up gymnastics and miss 60 days of school due to her abdominal pain. It hurt to exercise and sometimes to eat.

The diagnosis? A big question mark.

Day after day, nobody knows what's wrong, said Susannah.

It was heartbreaking. I think our biggest fear was that they'd never figure out the cause of the pain, said Jeff, Susannah's dad.

After six months of tests, the family found Dr. Donald Liu, chief of pediatric surgery at the University of Chicago. He sees patients like Susannah from all over the country.

They're labeled as being crazy, this is all in your mind, or they're labeled as anorexic or they have an eating disorder, and that's a very common thing, said Liu.

The answer for many is MALS -- Median Arcuate Ligament Syndrome. The main artery that supplies blood to the digestive tract is being squeezed by a ligament. That cuts off the blood supply needed for digestion.

Dr. Liu says it's not rare, it's just rarely diagnosed.

There's a whole population out there who would certainly qualify for us to look at this, said Liu.

In a minimally invasive surgery, Dr. Liu cuts the ligament so blood can flow freely again.

Dr. Liu says three-quarters of his patients feel immediate relief after surgery. For others, it can take six months or longer for the pain to finally go away.

For more information, contact Dr. Donald Liu at dliu@surgery.bsd.uchicago.edu

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