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Stomach Stapling for Weight Control: A Happy 5-Year Update

Five years ago Debbie Moore's weight was out of control. She was tipping the scales at 273 pounds when she decided to undergo gastric bypass surgery--a procedure that shrinks the size of the stomach. Some people refer to it as stomach stapling.

On November 7, 1996, 48 Hours profiled Debbie's struggle with her weight and her resulting medical problems and her surgery. Two months after the surgery we returned to see she had lost 60 pounds. We decided to contact her 5 years later and see how she was doing. The answer is, terrific. She weighs 170 to 175 pounds, feels great, is remarried, and has a second child--something she never would have been able to do without the surgery.

Before the procedure, she was suffering from numerous serious medical problems. She went on countless diets and just couldn't stick to any of them. Sometimes she would lose weight, sometimes she would gain weight instead of losing it. As far as medical problems went, she had swelling in her fingers, ankles, and feet; she had gallstones from all of the weight gains and losses she experienced; she had high blood pressure, a hernia, the early stages of diabetes, and sleep apnea. She would wake up in the middle of the night gasping for breath, and to prevent this she had to sleep with a machine and mask over her face to make sure she had enough oxygen. All of these medical problems are associated with being more than 100 pounds overweight. The condition is known as morbid obesity.

In addition to the physical toll, morbid obesity takes a psychological toll. Debbie always felt ashamed and never wanted to do anything. She was divorced, had a 4-year-old son, and lived in a trailer. She never wanted to do anything with her son except eat and watch TV.

On the 48 Hours special, Dr. George Cowan, the doctor that treated Debbie from the University of Tennessee, said that people with this condition have an enormous biological drive to eat. They take in more food than they need no matter how miserable they are being large: They can't help it. For these people, the only option may be what Debbie chose--a surgical procedure that essentially shrinks the size of their stomach by sealing off the majority of the stomach that would normally take in food.

Like any surgery--and more so for an obese person--the surgery has its risks, but for people like Debbie with morbid obesity the risk is greater for them not to do the surgery. For Debbie, her doctor said that over 5 to 10 years without the surgery, the risk of having a very serious problem would have been very high. This was how he convinced her insurance company to pay for the expensive procedure, which costs $15,000 to $20,000.

During the surgery, the doctor cuts the stomach and seals off a small portion of the stomach with staples. He reattaches the intestine to a new smaller stomach.

The thinking is that if the stomach is smaller, you will eat less. This is the only thing that works fosignificant weight loss for people with this problem. So basically the part of the stomach that is sealed of is now bypassed by all food. It will not see food again.

Two months after the surgery, 48 Hours returned to see how Debbie was doing. At that point she felt wonderful and had lost 60 pounds. She said it was as if she was living a dream when the weight started to come off. Before the surgery she could eat a whole pizza without even thinking about it and not feel full at all. Now she can only eat in very small portions. The surgery gives her no choice but to eat in small potions, thereby changing her eating habits dramatically. She said she planned to lose another 50 pounds. She was thrilled that people no longer look at her and say--look at that fat or pregnant woman. "People are looking at me smiling. I feel self-confident and happy for the first time in my life."
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