U center provides services for high-risk obese patients

Justin Costley

When Debra Langer began gaining weight for what seemed like no reason, she turned to dieting.
Jenny Craig, Slim Fast and numerous other diet plans failed as a thyroid problem, diagnosed much later, caused the once-slender Langer to gain 60 pounds in three months and 75 in two years.
When her doctor referred her to the Fairview-University Obesity Surgery Center, Langer — at high risk for a heart disease and diabetes — expressed interest. She suffered from a host of ailments, including low self-esteem and ankle and back problems.
Nearly three years, one surgical procedure and 120 pounds later, Langer has a new attitude about life and the gifts she has been given.
Without the surgery she knows it could have been different: “I just got married two days ago, and I had a son. I wouldn’t have a family now. I’m sure of it,” she said.
Langer’s experience is one of many successful stories coming out of the center, which is one of the largest and most reputable obesity clinics in the world.
Henry Buchwald, University professor of surgery and center director, has been a leader in obesity surgery for more than 30 years — performing operations on some 3,000 morbidly obese patients.
Morbid obesity is defined as a condition when patients are 100 pounds or more overweight, relative to their height.
While morbid obesity only affects 2 percent of the population, obesity in general is a growing problem in the United States.
The World Health Organization reports that each year, 300,000 Americans die prematurely from obesity-related complications.
Typically, morbidly obese patients receive restrictive surgical procedures designed to reduce their stomach size, limiting the amount of food they can eat and improving their ability to sense fullness after a meal.
Patients with this disease are at risk for high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea and many skeletal and muscle problems.
These diseases make a morbidly obese person’s chances of dying 20 to 40 times higher annually than normal.
Stereotypes clearly persist about slender and obese people.
“You get treated so differently when you are a large person,” Langer said. “You almost feel like you’re not even worthy of living.”
Buchwald says the ultimate goal for patients who have the surgery is to come within a reasonable level of what they should weigh. He added that a 10-pound-a-month average weight loss is ideal, though it may go faster at first.
“Most patients end up somewhat overweight,” Buchwald said. “Some patients, who really work at it, don’t neglect their diet and stick with their exercise, reach their optimum weight.”
Despite producing excellent results for 80 percent of its patients, and good results for another 10, many morbidly obese people are not interested in pursuing the surgical option.
Following surgery, patients are required to meet with a nutritionist. Even though patients will be eating less due to their stapled stomach, they must eat a well-balanced meal high in protein.
Exercise, especially swimming and walking, are also important in the post-operative regimen.
Through his work Buchwald has become sensitive to the medical, economical and social burdens that obese people carry and said he’s pleased to be able to help so many.
“It is the last permitted prejudice in our society,” he said. “It’s very gratifying, because it’s not just that they walk into your office looking thinner than before. It changes their lives.”

Justin Costley covers the Medical School and welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3238.