Local News

Gastric Bypass Surgery: Not All Programs Created Equal

Posted December 30, 2003

— More people are turning to surgery to achieve what they cannot with diet and exercise alone.

To meet the growing demand for gastric bypass surgery, more hospitals and surgeons are offering the procedure -- but not all programs are created equal.

There is a lot to consider when choosing bariatric surgery.

At one point, Jerry Norris weighed 580 pounds. Doctors told him his weight would kill him within three years and put him on medication.

"I was not losing any weight. They had me on an exercise program and all. In fact, I was getting bigger," Norris said.

Mary Williams also struggled with morbid obesity. At 275 pounds, she had diabetes and high blood pressure.

"My knees were so bad and I just couldn't walk," she said.

Norris and Williams both chose bariatric surgery at Moore Regional Hospital. They met surgeon Dr. Charles Mitchell Jr.'s first requirement of patients.

"It is imperative that patients -- before they come and evaluate the possibility of a surgical option to treat their obesity -- that they have tried and failed medical management first."

The American Society of Bariatric Surgeons report about 100,000 bariatric procedures were performed this year. That is double the amount from two years ago.

One out of 100 patients die from complications after the procedure. The deaths are often linked to illnesses that come with obesity, like diabetes and hypertension.

"If those problems aren't dealt with first, it can cause you to have problems post operatively," Mitchell said.

According to Mitchell, people should look for programs that carefully evaluate potential patients. Surgeons should be experienced in the procedure and the program should include long-term nutritional, psychological and medical care.

Counseling helped Williams and Norris understand that success depends on drastic lifestyle changes.

"This is a tool. It's not a cure at all," Williams said.

Norris welcomes the changes.

"I've got more of a life," he said. "I can get out and do things that I wasn't able to do for years."

Norris keeps a pair of his old pants in his truck to remember who he was, but said he does not pull them out often.

"I just want to look where I'm going now, not where I've been," he said.

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