Having spent the past 20 years in the field of bariatric medicine, I have heard many stories from patients over the years of their own “ah-ha” moment that led them to pursue weight loss surgery. Clearly the decision for any type of bariatric surgery is not an easy one; it is a decision made, for almost all patients, after years of trying and failing numerous non-surgical weight loss attempts.
Without question, weight loss surgery is a big decision, so when is it the right time to make this choice?
For some, it’s as simple as a health scare – a time when they realize that their obesity-related illness is becoming more severe, more disabling or possibly life ending. For others, it is a change in their life in which weight seems to be limiting them from moving forward – whether that is personally, professionally or even emotionally. Clearly, bariatric surgery is a big decision. However, following surgery, almost all of my patients tell me that they wish they’d done this years before.
I will never forget my patient JoAnne. At 55-years-old, JoAnne underwent weight loss surgery. One year later, as we sat down for her annual appointment, she began to cry. “You know, Dr. Baker," she confided in me, “my life-long dream has always been to be a flight attendant. I have applied every year since my early twenties and today I was hired as a flight attendant for a regional airline. I finally get to have my dream job!”
And the stories of success continue. Patients taking up sky diving, running ultramarathons, and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Other stories are not so grandiose but, by all means, just as significant – patients getting back to a quality of life that they once enjoyed, being able to ride in an airplane without an extender, enjoying Valley Fair or just riding a bike.
Research has shown that an obese person is discriminated against on average once an hour every day of their life. Obesity has real-life physical and emotional consequences, and with weight loss surgery there can be so many levels of healing and health.
So, when is bariatric surgery not the right choice?
With any type of surgery, the benefit of surgery must outweigh the risk, and weight loss surgery should be considered only when all non-surgical weight loss efforts have been attempted and have failed. There are also qualifications for surgery. The National Institute of Health (NIH) defines guidelines for a candidate to qualify for weight loss surgery as a person with a Body Mass Index (BMI - a measure of excess weight) of 40 or more or a BMI of 35 to 39.9 with a serious associated health problem linked to obesity such as Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease or sleep apnea.
Every patient, when initiating the Ridgeview program, will sit down with either me or Edmund P. Chute, MD, FACS, Ridgeview Bariatric & Weight Loss Center, for an in-depth review of their personal health and weight history, and to determine if weight loss surgery is the best choice for them.
- We review health issues and concerns that might preclude someone from being a good candidate.
- We discuss their expectations - not just for surgery but, more important, for life after surgery.
With diet and exercise, bariatric surgery is now proven to be the most effective, sustainable treatment for obesity; however, it is not a quick fix or an easy answer. As surgeons, we provide the “tool” for weight loss, but the patient must be committed to permanently changing his or her relationship to food to be successful. With more than 4,000 surgeries between Dr. Chute and myself, “We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two.”
After-care following surgery is extremely important. Ridgeview patients are seen quarterly in the first year following their operation, and then annually to evaluate their ongoing medical and nutritional health, weight management, food relations and to make adjustments if nutritional concerns arise. Weight loss surgery is a great solution for long-term weight loss and it is the right choice for those patients who are willing to make a lifelong commitment to their health.
I can’t end this blog without talking about the miracle resulting from the operations.
We do not know why this happens, but what we do know is that with patients who have type 2 diabetes and/or hypertension at the time of surgery, most will leave the hospital after surgery with their diabetes and or hypertension in remission. They will go home off their medications, yet they have not lost a pound. Clearly this isn’t due to weight loss – and we are investigating this phenomenon - but, as of today, for whatever the reason, it remains a miracle.