Dec. 18, 2000 -- Two years ago, Rhonda Bailey was fat and
miserable. The 38-year-old bore 245 pounds on her 5-foot-1 frame. Squeezing
into a restaurant booth, airplane seat, or amusement park ride was
unimaginable. Walking made her joints stiff and sore. She leaned heavily on a
cane to get from the handicapped parking space to her desk at work.
Today, Bailey is literally half the woman she used to be. Over
the past 18 months, she has shed 50% of her body weight. Her waist shrunk from
a size 26 to a size six. Now, at 125 pounds, the Southern California resident
jogs daily, bicycles with her stepdaughter, and rejoices in her ability to do
life's little things -- like tying her shoes -- without asking her husband for
By Ann Hodgman
One woman's diary
I said to my daughter, "You know what I just can't stand about this
book? The long passages with no dialogue." -
She paused, then said, "Mom, are there any books you like
Now it was my turn to pause. How could she ask that, when everyone knows how
much I love to read? But then again, when had I last complimented a book — even
one I admired? Come to think of it, how often did I say anything without a
negative twist? I don't want my tombstone...
Bailey's secret isn't the latest fad diet or radical weight
loss drug. She owes her slimmed-down body to gastric-bypass surgery. The
procedure is just one of several weight loss operations that fall under the
heading of bariatric surgery.
As obesity rates creep skyward, so do the number of Americans
turning to surgery as a weight loss tool. Although today's bariatric surgery is
safer and more effective than earlier versions, the procedure is not an instant
cure. Reserved only for the severely obese (those who tip the scales at 100
pounds or more over their normal body weight), bariatric surgery is a drastic
step with a high rate of complications. Patients must make radical, lifelong
dietary changes, and permanent weight loss is not guaranteed. Still, a growing
number of doctors are recommending bariatric surgery for severely obese
patients who find themselves at wits' end about weight loss.
The increasing demand for bariatric surgery reflects the
country's obesity epidemic. In the United States, 55% of adults are overweight.
Four million Americans are severely obese. Of that group, 80% are women of
The average bariatric surgery patient is a woman in her late
30s who weighs approximately 300 pounds, says Robert Brolin, MD, president of
the American Society for Bariatric Surgery. Brolin estimates the number of
bariatric surgeries performed this year will reach 40,000 -- double that of
five years ago. He attributes the procedure's popularity to the rise in obesity
rates and the willingness of insurance companies to cover the operation's
$25,000 and up price tag.
How It Works
During bariatric surgery, the stomach is closed off, leaving
only a small pouch about the size of a thumb for food. As a result, patients
feel full on fewer calories. However, the most common procedure --
gastric-bypass surgery -- goes one step further. Surgeons not only shrink the
stomach but also reroute the small intestine to thwart the digestive process,
thereby decreasing the number of calories absorbed.
This is achieved by making a direct connection between the
stomach and a lower section of the small intestine. The first segment, the
duodenum, is skipped entirely. The duodenum's chief responsibility is igniting
the digestive process and absorbing iron and calcium from food. So in the end,
patients eat less and absorb fewer calories. Sound too good to be true?
Consider the price.