by Natalie GutierrezOn a dream vacation to Disney World in 2002, Stacy Long yearned to run alongside her spunky 4-year-old daughter, Kaitlyn, and enjoy the magical amusement park rides with her husband, Richard. Instead, she watched them enjoy themselves from a distance. At 320 pounds, Long, 26, felt as if she was missing out on life. "I couldn’t fit in the rides. My ankles ached. I was uncomfortable," Long said.
But what bothered her more was the fear that her young life could come to an end soon because of a deadly disease called obesity.
Despite years of trying numerous diet and exercise programs, Long continued to gain weight and soon developed a hernia and sleep apnea,and became borderline diabetic and deeply depressed. With cardiovascular problems being hereditary on her father’s side of the family, Long lived in fear of suffering from a heart attack or stroke.
Long with her family
at Disney World in 2002.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 60 million adults 20 years of age or older are obese. The battle of the bulge is an uphill struggle and is even more difficult for those who are considered morbidly obese (100 pounds overweight or twice their ideal weight). Obesity increases the risk of a host of life-threatening diseases, including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, sleep apnea, respiratory problems, gallbladder problems and some forms of cancer.
Although many therapeutic approaches to cure obesity are available - exercise, low-calorie diets, diet drugs and behavior modification - all fail to maintain reduced body weight in most patients. Experts at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have stated that surgical intervention is the most effective method in the long-term management of morbid obesity.
In February 2005, Long underwent laparoscopic gastric bypass surgery. Health Science Center Professor of Surgery Wayne Schwesinger, M.D., and Steven Bowers Jr., M.D., assistant professor of surgery, were Stacy’s surgeons. In a three-hour, three-step operation, Drs. Schwesinger and Bowers took Long’s stomach and created a smaller gastric pouch, about the size of an adult thumb. They then rerouted a section of her small intestine to fit directly into the smaller stomach pouch, creating a "bypass" for food. The bypass allows food to skip parts of the small intestine and to go directly into the smaller stomach. Finally, they connected the remaining intestines to the small intestine that was rerouted to Long’s new smaller stomach.
Her hernia, sleep apnea, depression, knee and ankle pain, and pre-diabetes disappeared.
"I call it a miracle," Long said. "I can now run and play with my children, and I am a much healthier and happier person."
Dr. Schwesinger agrees that Long is much healthier than before.
"I have seen Stacy’s quality of life improve dramatically," Dr. Schwesinger said. "Prior to surgery, she had many health problems that lingered and could have worsened because of her obesity. But all these problems resolved in as little as two weeks after Stacy’s surgery. Diseases such as type 2 diabetes and depression, which can be brought on by obesity, commonly disappear within one to two weeks after surgery for most patients. High blood pressure and sleep apnea also resolve gradually."
Dr. Schwesinger, who leads the bariatric surgical team at the Health Science Center, said the concept of gastric bypass surgery has existed for nearly 40 years. The words "bariatric surgery" originate from the Greek words for "weight" and "treatment."
The surgical team at the Health Science Center performs two types of bariatric surgeries - laparoscopic gastric bypass and the laparoscopic adjustable band procedure. The laparoscopic (less invasive) methods became available in the 1990s. Although the laparoscopic procedures are much less invasive and safer than ever before, both have benefits and risks. Some insurances cover the surgeries; however, Medicaid does not.
"We’ve been performing this type of surgery at the Health Science Center since the 1970s, and our team has been doing this longer than anyone in this city," he said.
Dr. Schwesinger said he and his team are working to improve and expand the bariatric surgery program by adding new surgeons with outstanding experience, and by improving upon the care and services provided to patients.
"We believe in this surgery because it helps people who are suffering from a growing epidemic called obesity," Dr. Schwesinger said. "The success of this surgery is that it prolongs the lives of our patients and greatly improves the quality of their lives. And that is what medicine is all about."
Stacy Long, now 32, exercises five days a week and said she is healthier than ever before. "I’m planning another family trip to Disney World in the near future," she said. "And this time I’m going to have the time of my life."
For more information about the UT Medicine Weight Loss program at the Health Science Center, visit www.utweightloss.com or call 1-877-886-3395.
UT Health Science Center
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