At her heaviest, Nilvia Ruggiero weighed 268 pounds. The burden on her 5-foot frame left her feeling desperate.
"There are times you wish you were dead and that's the truth," says Ruggiero.
She had severe back pain, slept sitting up, and couldn't even lift her grandson. Yet every diet and exercise program she tried failed.
"There is not one diet ever that you could name that I haven't been on," she claims.
As a last resort, Ruggiero opted for something more obese Americans are trying -- bariatric surgery. In the procedure, doctors drastically reduce the size of the stomach using staples, then re-route a section of the small intestine, so less fat and fewer calories are absorbed.
Nine months later, Ruggiero has lost 93 pounds. Most patients keep the weight off for good.
Her surgeon, Dr. Elliot Goodman, explains that, "A candidate for this operation has to be at least 100 pounds over their ideal body weight. They have had to try every other less radical therapy to lose weight."
Today, with obesity one of the nation's most pressing public health problems, there are a lot of candidates.
Forty-thousand bariatric surgeries were performed in the year 2000; in 1995, 20,000 were performed. That's a 100 percent increase in five years.
"The operation works on two levels," Goodman notes. "Obviously, physically they are not able to eat as much food. And on a mental level their appetite is definitely diminished."
She is unfazed by the fact that recovery can be uncomfortable, malnutrition is a risk and she will be forced to eat much, much less -- forever!
"If I don't do this, what's going to happen? I have a chance at a better, healthier life," Maso says.
The surgery costs about $20,000, but because it ultimately reduces the risk of life-long obesity related health problems, many insurers are willing to pay.
Critics of the surgery say its increased popularity is a sign that we have failed to really address obesity in this country. But to those who try it, it also represents the only success they've ever had losing weight -- and being healthy.
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