Gastric Bypass Surgery Not Without Risk

By Lori Lyle

(LOUISVILLE, May 17th, 2004) -- The number of weight loss surgeries has quadrupled in the last three years. Success stories abound -- but so do failures. Medical Reporter Lori Lyle has more on what you need to know before deciding on surgery.

The boom in gastric bypass surgeries has been spurred on by the celebrity success stories of Carnie Wilson, Al Roker and American Idol's Randy Jackson. But as we learn more about the surgeries, we're also learning more about the risks involved.

Four years ago, Dani Hart thought she could accelerate her weight loss by going under the knife. She lost weight, but nearly lost her life. "I had tremors. I couldn't keep food down. My hair was falling out. My bones and muscles hurt so bad I could barely walk."

She had what has become the "gold standard" in bypass surgery -- known as rouxeny. It involves creating a small stomach pouch that bypasses the rest of the stomach and is connected to the small intestine.

Almost immediately, she had problems. "There was just a host of problems that just kept on growing and growing as my body became more malnourished."

"Without doubt, you are trading one group of problems for possibly another," says weight loss specialist Dr. Caroline Cederquist.

Cederquist works closely with patients before and after their weight loss surgeries. "And what people need to realize is that bariatric surgery is not the end of a person's battle with obesity. It's the beginning of a different battle with obesity."

One part of that battle is adjusting to a new diet. "I see people taking normal bites and that's half of my meal. It hurts just watching them take that bite," says Mimma Catalano.

Food is something Catalano can't escape. She owns an Italian restaurant. She's also had gastric bypass surgery, but says now she feels "physically so much better. And emotionally and mentally I am ready for it."

To get ready, Mimma underwent counseling before surgery. It's helped her deal with the post surgical spotlight. "I have also had comments like, 'you're different.' I said, 'what do you mean, I'm different?'"

Doctors say it's not unusual for patients to feel depressed about missing the social act of eating. Dr. Cederquist urges patients to undergo pre-surgical counseling and to do their homework. "What patients need to do is they need to really research their doctor and find out how many procedures and where they trained, the complication rates."

Experts say a good measuring stick is 100 surgeries. Mimma is thankful for her proactive approach. She has lost 80 pounds in six months with virtually no problems. As for Dani, after months of agony, she opted for a reversal. "Without this I would have been dead. The amount of money that I have spent on surgery, on all the complications, vitamins, minerals, everything -- I could have had a personal trainer and a personal chef for several years."

Today, however, Dani's happier, healthier and perhaps a little wiser. Although gastric bypass surgery continues to be popular, it can get a little more expensive for patients. Many insurance companies are dropping it from their policies.

Online Reporter: Lori Lyle

Online Producer: Michael Dever