Choosing surgery for weight loss

June 27, 2011


Just the word is ugly. Morbid obesity sounds even worse, the clinical term for someone with a body mass index of 40 or higher. Morbidly obese usually means someone is at least 100 pounds over their suggested normal weight.

With all the media attention on the topic the word obesity by itself might conjure up images of giant sized people waddling down the sidewalk, pulling into a handicapped parking spot or riding electric carts that have popped up at almost any major store. You might pray you don’t get seated next to “one of them” on a train or an airplane.

The media inevitably run video or photos of giant people shot from behind to go with the latest story on obesity.  Is it because they are protecting the person’s privacy or is it just to emphasize how big they are?

You might be thinking “Wow, there goes another one, glad it’s not me.”  “What in the world does that person eat to get that big?”  “Why don’t they just go to the gym?”  “Such a shame for someone so young, good looking too, if he/she lost about 100 pounds they would look great!”

Of course you never say that to a perfect stranger.  But your questions remain.

In covering the broad topic of obesity in America over the last two years I have made an effort to have our readers get to know obese people as just people. To learn about them, who they are really, and get past just their size.  I’ve asked my subjects the questions you have been thinking about, and been with them at home, at work and out in public.

Jazmine Raygoza shops with her mother.  REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Newsflash:  They are just like anyone else even if they don’t fit into the “healthy” category on a BMI (Body Mass Index) chart.

Jazmine Raygoza and her mother Veronica.   REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Ranging from people aligned with the fat acceptance movement (that subject was a nearly 500 pound girl who thought her size was just right) to those who signed up for a “Biggest Loser” camp where they only eat 400 calories a meal and work out 5 times a day to those who chose surgery as a last resort, they have all been a joy to meet.

A teenager and her mother who both recently underwent bariatric surgery are my most recent subjects.  Jazmine Raygoza is 17 with one year of high school left.  She just had Lap-Band surgery to restrict the size of her stomach in a last ditch attempt to lose weight. Her mother Veronica has already lost 35 pounds after she had a gastric bypass two months ago.  The mother and daughter hope they can help each other along in the journey to lose almost 200 pounds between them.

Jazmine Raygoza is wheeled into an operating room for her gastric banding operation.   REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Bariatric surgery on teens and youths is a controversial topic in the medical world. The surgeon who worked with me on this latest story, Dr. Michael Snyder is one of the very few who will even consent to perform the operation on such a young patient in the Rocky Mountain region.  He has done less than 3 dozen patients under 21 as opposed to thousands of adults.

Jazmine Raygoza breathes with the help of an oxygen mask. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Snyder says commitment is one factor that makes the difference. First he has the young patients go though nutrition, behavioral and exercise counseling and a psychological evaluation.

Jazmine Raygoza and her mother as they eat bacon-wrapped hot dogs.

Only about 50% of those who start Snyder’s teen program have actually had the surgery. He compares it to marriage. He can perform the surgery in about 15 minutes but then the young patient has to live with it.

Doctors operate on Jazmine Raygoza.  REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Still for many it can be worth it.  A clinical trial, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in February of 2010, showed 24 surgery patients losing an average 76.3 pounds, nearly 28% of their total body weight. The equivalent for the diet-and-exercise group of 18 people was 6.6 pounds, or 3% of body weight.

A surgeon prepares the injection port for Jazmine Raygoza's Lap-Band during her gastric banding operation.  REUTERS/Rick Wilking

But questions remain. Ongoing studies are still trying to determine long-term metabolic, nutritional and psychological effects of the surgery in adolescents.

Jazmine Raygoza starts to wake up after her gastric banding operation. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

All of that doesn’t concern Jazmine.  She still tears up as she recalls her classmates calling her “earthquake” or “cow” at elementary school.   She still has horrible memories of being afraid she would get stuck in her desk in middle school. And she fears diabetes,  as she has a family history of the disease.

Both Jazmine and her mother Veronica felt the surgical solution was all they had left.  Before choosing surgery, they joined a gym together and worked out most every day for a year. Veronica lost some weight but Jazmine lost almost none which made her even more discouraged on weigh-in days.

Jazmine Raygoza walks through the kitchen of her home.   REUTERS/Rick Wilking

So their new life-long chapter begins.  I’ll be checking in with them to get new photos as the weight comes off.  And I can’t wait to be there when Jazmine starts senior year at high school and see the reaction of her classmates.

Photographer Rick Wilking at the hospital.


Slideshow: Jazmine Raygoza decides to undergo surgery to reduce her weight.


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It is sad to see Americans so overweight, as a result of bad eating habit.

Why would any human want to eat a bacon-wrapped hot dog? That alone conjures up image of bad food. Americans eat junk, and that is turning their bodies into junkyards. What happen to fruits and vegetables?

Weight loss by surgery will not solve the problem. It is just a temporary solution. Until these families learn to cook healthy meals, obesity will continue from one generation to the next. And the cost to healthcare will ever continue to rise.

Posted by OCTheo | Report as abusive

I don’t think that surgery should be your first option, but there are people that do not have the will to lose weight fast or lose weight at all, although sometimes it is veery difficult even if you want to, however there are support communities and site such as that can help you go through your hard times:)

Posted by Alex2222 | Report as abusive

Yes, most of the American are overweight. Due to poor eating habits it can happen to anyone. To make improvement in the eating habit is the first step which can help to reduce the weight. Avoid junk food, drink plenty of water, do practice daily exercise are some of the natural ways to lose the weight.

Posted by Carolhardin | Report as abusive