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High demand for less weight

Washington County Hospital opens bariatric clinic

Washington County Hospital opens bariatric clinic

September 15, 2008|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

Due to growing demand, a new bariatric practice has opened near Hagerstown and will offer two kinds of weight-loss surgeries.

"There's quite a few patients in the area that need this service," said Tom Pianta, administrative director of health management for Washington County Hospital.

The Weight Loss Clinic opened at Robinwood Medical Center in June, said Dr. Scot Currie, medical director of bariatric surgery for Washington County Hospital. Currie said no surgeries have been performed, but at least 50 patients were in the preoperation phase.

Doctors will perform laparoscopic gastric bypass and laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding, Currie said.

Gastric bypass is when the stomach, which is about the size of a football, is surgically reduced to the size of a golf ball. The small intestines are re-attached to the stomach in a way that keeps food from passing through the part of the intestine that absorbs the most calories.

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Gastric banding is when a saline-filled band is used to cinch the upper part of the stomach, creating a small pouch.

Less weight, more happiness

Doctors look to bariatric surgery as a last result, an option to try when everything else has failed, said Barbara Dromazos, clinical and nutrition manager for Summit Health, the parent organization of Chambersburg (Pa.) Hospital and Waynesboro (Pa.) Hospital.

That was the case for Cheryl Everson, 33, of Berkeley Springs, W.Va., who said she's struggled with weight issues her entire life.

"I had done every diet that was out there," Everson said. She tried everything from Atkins to what she called the "cabbage soup diet" - preparing a soup with cabbage and carrots, but only drinking the broth. That lasted a month.

"It was terrible," she said.

In January 2007, she had a laparoscopic gastric bypass surgery in Chambersburg and now weighs 155 pounds, compared with 315 before the surgery. She said that because of the surgery, her relationship with her 3-year-old son and husband have improved. She also enjoys wearing "skinny people clothes."

Everson said she finds it easier to live a healthy lifestyle, whereas before she never paid attention to nutrition or how much she ate.

"I don't crave anything," Everson said.

Obesity is a slow death

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity increases the risk for heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer.

"Obesity kills, and it is a slow painful death," said Dr. Kelvin Higa in a phone interview.

Higa is the past president of the American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery and clinical professor of surgery at University of California, San Francisco. The Florida-based organization has been supportive of bariatric surgery as a way to treat illness as well as obesity when diet and exercise alone don't work.

An estimated 200,000 weight-loss surgeries are performed in the U.S. each year, Higa said. According to the American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery, the surgeries cost between $17,000 to $25,000. Medicare expanded its coverage for bariatric procedures in 2006, but coverage from other insurance providers varies.

For people who are eligible, weight-loss surgeries like gastric bypass reduce the amount of calories consumed, thus causing a drop in weight. Criteria for eligibility are being morbidly obese or being obese with obesity-related diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and most insurance agencies define obesity in terms of body-mass index (BMI), a ratio of height and weight. A BMI of 30 or greater is considered obese. Morbid obesity is defined as being more than 100 pounds overweight or having a BMI higher than 40. A healthy BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9, according to the CDC.

A BMI calculator can be found at the CDC's Web site. Go to www.cdc.gov and enter "BMI calculator" in the search field.

More than just weight loss

The addition of a bariatric practice in Hagerstown comes at a time when many in the medical community are giving a second look at the use of weight-loss surgery as a way to treat obesity-related illnesses such as diabetes and cancer.

"Now, finally, good studies are coming out to prove bariatric surgery can treat these co-morbidities," Currie said.

In January, a study in The Journal of the American Medical Association found 73 percent of Type 2 diabetics who had adjustable gastric banding surgeries saw complete remissions. Sixty patients participated in the study.

A Canadian study released in June suggested that weight-loss surgery reduces the risk of cancer. Researchers at McGill University compared 1,035 morbidly obese patients who had bariatric surgery with 5,746 morbidly obese patients who didn't have the surgery. The study found that the percentage of bariatric patients who received cancer diagnoses was considerably lower than nonbariatric patients.

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