New diet-reduction surgery performed for first time in Minnesota

by Tim Sturrock

Kelli Hopkins has been battling her weight since childhood.

Two days ago, at Fairview University Hospital, the 28-year old received a surgery that might help her do what diets and exercise couldn’t.

Sayeed Ikramuddin, a University surgeon who performed the procedure, said it has been used around the country since meeting FDA approval last June, but Monday marked its first usage in Minnesota.

Rather than cutting organs, in “lap band” surgery doctors place an inflatable band around the stomach. It causes the patient to feel full and eat less.

By requiring only several small incisions, this approach cuts recovery time from six weeks to only a few days. Previous methods needed an 8- to 10-inch incision, which is more likely to be infected or cause blood clots, Ikramuddin said.

Surgeries pioneered at the University in the 1950s involved removing portions of the small intestine to treat obesity, which resulted in kidney stones, liver failure and sometimes death, Ikramuddin said.

Ikramuddin said such failures have given the field a bad reputation.

This surgery stands out because it’s the only one of its type in the country that doesn’t involve cutting any organs.

However, there are still potential problems. In some cases, the band can move and further surgery would be necessary. But that happens only 1 percent of the time and is not life-threatening, Ikramuddin said.

Despite possible complications, he said, the surgery can alleviate problems caused by obesity, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, sleep apnea and osteoarthritis.

Ikramuddin blames personal eating habits and culture for the 12 million people who suffer from obesity in the United States.

“Society needs to be changed and restructured, but what are we going to do about that 12 million people?”

He rebuffed the belief that obese people need to “just stop eating.”

Once someone becomes obese, he said, their bodies change and stop telling them when they’re full.

“We eat, and we’re not aware of how much we eat. This surgery will make (Hopkins) aware of how much she eats.”

Diets might work for a while, he said, but they slow a person’s metabolism and make the dieter feel hungrier than he or she otherwise would. Therefore, it’s difficult to keep the weight off.

Ikramuddin cautioned surgery might not be for everyone, like those who are severely obese or have diabetes. In such cases, he said he believes that it could be a waste of time and money.

Ikramuddin said he uses the criteria recommended by the National Institutes of Health, which require patients to meet a certain level of obesity and have health problems, or a much higher obesity level with no health problems.

Hopkins said her main motivation for having the surgery is to enable her to run through the park with her son without running out of breath.

She said she hopes the surgery will end a chapter in her life written by her difficulties with weight.

Hopkins said more invasive surgeries posed too high of a risk. But the short recovery period and less intrusive procedure made her feel safe enough to go under the knife.

Joan McIver Gibson, director of the University of New Mexico’s Health Science Center for Ethics, said the dangers of obesity and surgery are something individual patients and their doctors should decide.

What’s important is that the procedure is legal, there’s informed consent, and it meets medical standards, she said.