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Stomach Band Extends Weight-Loss Success

Those who have struggled with their weight know how difficult it is to lose pounds--and keep them off. Now, a new surgical option recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration gives the severely overweight a chance at a new life.

Unlike gastric bypass surgery--which involves cutting a patient open and completely redesigning their digestive system--a stomach band is laparoscopically implanted using small incisions, leading to potentially fewer complications. The band is surrounded by a saline ring that can be adjusted through a port implanted under the ribs. The ring is tightened to increase weight loss and loosened to slow it down. It works by making a patient feel full faster and limits food consumption by slowing down how fast a patient can eat.

About 60,000 patients worldwide have the lap band, 500 of them in the United States. CBS 2's Paul Moniz spoke with one who says her life has been radically changed.

At an unhealthy 400-plus pounds, Debra Miller was desperate to lose weight, but she could not stop eating.

"I would consume an entire meal in 3 minutes without knowing what went down," Miller says.

After her daughter was born 21 years ago, Miller watched the 70 pounds she gained during pregnancy balloon out of control. Her dress size grew to a 32_ . Embarrassingly, as a registered nurse, she became an unintended poster child for obesity until she had the gastric band surgically implanted 5 years ago. Miller has regained control of her weight and her appetite. She no longer shovels: She eats.

"I've lost at least 220 pounds," she says. "I've stopped weighing myself. I actually taste food now, which before was purely sight. I enjoy food too much. That is what I had to change."

Dr. Michael Gagner, of Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, has implanted dozens of bands during clinical trials.

"It's much more successful than any drug on the market and any diet trial you will see, overall," he says. "But it's not as successful as the gastric bypass, [which will give] 60 to 70% excess weight loss."

The lap band reduces excess weight by 30 to 40%.

Ideal candidates must be at least 100 pounds overweight with a body mass index--BMI--of between 35 and 40. BMI is a measurement that takes into account a person’s weight and height to gauge total body fat.

The band costs between $10,000 and $15,000, which is cheaper than gastric bypass--but not all insurance companies will pay for the band.

For all the band's benefits, there are drawbacks. Nearly 90% of patients experience side effects, which include nausea, vomiting, heartburn, abdominal pain, and band slippage. One in four patients have had the band removed because of those side effects or because of insufficient weight loss. It's not clear how frequently the band has to be replaced. The longest any patient in the United States has had it is 6 years.

Miller has had exceptionally good results, but she still has to follow a low-fat det.

"This is a tool. It's up to you to change your lifestyle," she advises. "I could have continued having milkshakes but I didn't. This was enough that I had to go through surgery."

Although she allows her doctor to weigh her, Miller claims not to know her true weight. It's enough that she abandoned large elastic sweats for a size 10 dress.

Miller has had her band adjusted several times, but with a new shape and a new boyfriend, she has no regrets.

"This is the new me and the new life and I'll do anything to keep it!" she enthuses. "[Now] I'm skiing, I'm diving, I'm going to be a personal trainer. I'm doing things I never thought I could do even before the weight."

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