Choosing to have a procedure, to take action, for weight loss and health is one of the most intimate, personal and according to my patients, wonderfully life-changing decisions you can make.
The decision to undergo the non-surgical Orbera gastric balloon, or to undertake an operation - gastric bypass, gastric sleeve, Vbloc, or gastric banding (LapBand), should involve honesty with oneself, careful consideration and meticulous research. Choosing the procedure that meets your needs and the surgeon who will help you maximize your success are decisions that aren't to be taken lightly. The best advice that I can offer to anyone who is considering a weight loss procedure is to first educate yourself and second, embrace an emotional commitment to make a positive change. Being open-minded about your options and taking a honest look at the facts are the first steps toward success and good health. After thoroughly researching the subject, you will be ready to interview surgeons and you will know what you're looking for.
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Many thin people, and sadly, even doctors, don't recognize that obesity is largely a genetic, metabolic disease, with devastating effects on adults and children. The statistics on gastric bypass surgery show us that a morbidly obese person is almost 10 times more likely to die within five years if they don't undergo the surgery than if they do. It carries less risk than having your gallbladder out. Morbid obesity leads to a 20 year reduction in life span, 400% increase in the risk of diabetes, 75% increase in stroke and 70% increase in coronary artery disease. Obesity is linked to many types of cancer, sexual dysfunction and infertility. Major depression amongst morbidly obese persons has reached 89%. Gastric bypass, sleeve gastrectomy, V-Bloc, the Orbera gastric balloon and gastric banding aren't cosmetic procedures. 90% of patients who have gastric bypass watch their high blood pressure and diabetes go away within about 48 hours and they leave the hospital off of their medications. The weight loss from all of the procedures can make sleep apnea disappear. Low testosterone normalizes. Infertility reverses. Migraines disappear. Cancer risk positively plummets. People experience heightened self-esteem and confidence, which helps many taper off of their anti-depressants. Simply stated, obesity is a lethal disease. Surgery is the ONLY treatment that has been proven to work in the long term for patients with BMI over 35. The Orbera gastric balloon, which works extremely well for those in the slightly lower weight ranges, triples
the weight loss compared to diet and exercise alone, thus reducing the risk of developing high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, etc. These procedures save the lives of people who are going to die from obesity.
However, weight loss procedures aren't just about statistics. They're about people. My patients tell me that it gave them a second chance at a normal life. They feel like they are better parents, better spouses and more active grandparents. My patients frequently ask me what their life might be like a year or so after their procedure. There is so much to say about this. I could write volumes on the experiences that my patients have shared. In fact, my patients have written their personal stories in the gallery section of the site. It's good stuff. Within several months after surgery, my patients tell me that they can't remember ever feeling so good. A year afterward, many are at or below their high school graduation weight, and are fitter than ever before. By this time, my patients have set and met exercise goals like running a marathon, climbing a mountain, taking scuba lessons, playing soccer with their kids, chasing grandkids in the park, and in some cases, bear hunting, skydiving, parasailing... the list is endless. They no longer worry about their limits for vacations - they can go anywhere, do anything, wear anything. They realize what they were missing out on all those years and now that they have a body that can accomplish what their mind wants to do, they are making up for lost time. Previously infertile women are now having children. Those who couldn't imagine enjoying exercise have become personal trainers. A young lady who was turned down for a job before surgery because of her size, reapplied to the same job as a thin, beautiful young woman and was hired on the spot. What's most gratifying to me is when a patient gives me a hug and says, "Thank you for saving my life."The surgical procedures for obesity are widely popular and have become quite commonplace, with 220,000 weight loss surgeries performed in 2008. Surgery is the most effective tool available to treat diabetes in morbidly obese patients and also relieves high blood pressure, sleep apnea, cardiac dysfunction, infertility and sexual dysfunction. But along with the popularity of the procedures comes a price. All surgeons, all programs and all operations are not created equal and do not have equivalent outcomes. Having done your research, when the time comes to evaluate bariatric programs and bariatric surgeons, you will knowwhat to look for and what questions to ask.
Choosing the bariatric surgeon and program that are right for you is the most important action on your way to getting your life back. Please take the time to research my credentials. In 2000 I became the first woman to perform the laparoscopic gastric bypass* and I am pleased to report a continued mortality rate of zero. I have been uniquely fortunate to have been personally trained by both the Grandfather of Bariatric Surgery, who performed the very first open gastric bypass in 1966, and the pioneers of the laparoscopic gastric bypass, who performed the world's first right at Alvarado Hospital in 1993. I operate at Sharp Memorial, Scripps Memorial and Alvarado Hospitals.
Through many years of focusing my entire practice on the treatment of patients with weight problems, I've met remarkable people from all walks of life. I applaud their courage and determination and am honored by their willingness to place their trust in me and my skills. I embrace the connections that I have with my patients, as helping them become healthy, active, happier people has enriched my own life immeasurably.
Each patient who comes to me needing to lose weight, whether they wish to undergo weight loss surgery or a non-surgical treatment like the Orbera Gastric Balloon, has unique personal and health-related reasons for doing so. It may be to relieve joint pain, diabetes or hypertension or weight related infertility. It may be to save their life for the sake of children and family. It may be that an obese person simply wants the opportunity to have a "normal" life. Please take a moment to read about my patients' individual experiences. Each bariatric surgery story is different, personal and holds a magic all its own.
Julie Ellner, M.D.