More than 1,000 people have had a gastric bypass operation since Gundersen Lutheran started its bariatric surgery program 10 years ago.
Research has shown the value of bariatric surgery in treating a variety of obesity-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, gastro-esophageal reflux disease and sleep apnea.
Dr. Shanu Kothari, a Gundersen Lutheran bariatric surgeon, has presented research showing patients who were denied bariatric surgery for insurance reasons developed a slew of new obesity-related diseases and conditions within three years of follow-up.
“It is not only about the patient’s current health status but what is likely to happen to them in a relatively short period of time without access to weight-loss surgery,” Kothari said.
No one is suggesting bariatric surgery is the answer to obesity, he said, but it is a good option for the morbidly obese who are at the highest risk for chronic diseases and even death.
“Bariatric surgery is not an easy way out,” Kothari said. “There’s nothing easy about it, but it can make a big difference in the lives and health of obese patients.”
People who are considered eligible for surgery are morbidly obese, which is generally 75 to 100 or more pounds overweight, have a BMI of 40 or more, or a BMI of 35 or more with an obesity-related disease.
“Rarely does a patient with a BMI of more than 40 not have a health problem such as diabetes, hypertension or sleep apnea,” said Dr. Matthew Baker, another Gundersen Lutheran bariatric surgeon.
Kothari said the average bariatric patient loses two-thirds of the excess weight after surgery. “A very small percentage don’t lose a substantial amount of weight,” he said.
After surgery, patients eat 400 to 600 calories a day and work up to 1,000 calories a day, Baker said.
“For many, it’s a matter of health and life,” Baker said. “We tell patients that surgery is forcing them to do something that they couldn’t do on their own.
“Most see a better quality of life, and they’re also more active,” he said. “Some gain their weight back, but most don’t, and the surgery offers them hope and a chance to live a healthy life.”