'A risk worth taking'

Some view gastric bypass as only hope to beat obesity

Three years ago this summer, Laurel Causer was a different person -- literally.

One of the only remnants of her past life is the size 26 pants she keeps stashed in the back of her closet, just as a reminder. Causer, who said she always was overweight growing up, signed on for gastric bypass surgery like a growing number of Americans. Would she do it again?

"In a heartbeat."

The 30-year-old Craig woman said she viewed the medical procedure that shrinks the stomach and intestines allowing substantially less food into the body, as the only hope to control what seemed like a permanent bout with obesity after years of yo-yo dieting and failed exercise programs.

"At least for me it was like a last resort," she said. "I thought there was nothing better out there."

Indeed, that seems to be the thinking of more people each year.

As Americans are increasingly becoming obese, the numbers of people opting for surgery that can help drop pounds is on the rise.

About 65 percent of adult Americans are categorized as overweight or obese. All this excess weight becomes expensive, as obesity is quickly overtaking smoking as the No. 1 cause of death in the nation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obese people have a 50 percent to 100 percent increased risk of death compared to people of healthy weight. Last year obesity-related illnesses cost the United States $75 billion.

In 2003, plastic surgeons saw an influx of patients who had follow-up body contouring surgery after having gastric bypass surgery. More than 52,000 plastic surgeries were performed on these patients, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

Doctors don't usually recommend gastric bypass procedures unless a person is 100 pounds or more overweight. After surgery, patients often lose ten to 20 pounds a month, according to information provided by Poudre Valley Health Systems in Fort Collins.

But the surgery does come with its share of risks -- one reason why Causer looked long at her options before committing to the procedure, which usually is irreversible.

About one in 200 die because of an obesity-related cardiopulmonary problem or undetected leak.

For Causer, it was a risk worth taking, but she also knows the procedure isn't foolproof. A former gastric bypass support group in Craig helped people to talk about the lifestyle changes that come with eating significantly smaller portions of food.

Eating even a little more than a shrunken stomach can handle can cause sickness, said Linda Pinnt, who had an earlier version of gastric bypass surgery commonly known as the rubber band method.

Pinnt essentially had a large rubber band placed around her stomach 15 years ago, but it's since stretched out.

If she could get insurance to foot the bill, Pinnt said she'd go for a gastric bypass surgery to lose the weight she slowly gained back over the years.

"You have to take smaller bites and eat smaller meals," she said of post surgery practices. "If you don't like to vomit, I guarantee, you'll eat less."

While losing weight quickly is exciting, Causer said the process comes with psychological and emotional implications. Because her insurance company paid for the surgery, it also required a mental health examine and pre-surgery nutrition training, which Causer said was helpful. Soon after the surgery, Causer found she could only eat as much food at one meal that fit inside a pill cup.

"There's a mourning period of not having food there," she said. "That's pretty hard."

For a time, Causer said she would still see her old self in the mirror, though she noticeably was almost half her former self.

"It took a long time to see anyone other than that person," she said. "It was a just a lifetime of seeing yourself a certain way."

Causer and the experts agree that the surgery isn't for everyone, but the Craig woman distinctly remembers the despondency she felt after one doctor didn't approve of her going ahead with surgery.

"I just cried my eyes out," Causer said. "It was really hard for me to go anywhere but heavier. I can't tell you how much better I feel, physically. It's those things people don't think about."

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