Lap Band Surgery Helps Bremerton Girl Be ‘The Kid I Want To Be’
Source: Kitsap Sun
Seventh grade can be hard on a kid.
There’s battles with self-confidence, puberty, popularity, acne, growth spurts, sexual awareness, drugs, drinking, grades. The list of horrors goes on.
When Marsha Siperek of Bremerton thought about her 12-year-old daughter, Hannah, she knew that beside all the usual teen angst, Hannah would have a strike against her because she was morbidly obese.
“Before it was people staring at her, openly staring at her,” said Marsha, who was also severely obese. “I was an adult, butthey did it to her.
At 12, on the verge of the cruelest year of adolescence, Hannah stood 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighed about 290 pounds. She could eat and eat and never feel full. She showed early signs of Type 2 diabetes. She loved soccer but couldn’t force her overburdened frame to run the field.
“She was always hungry, and she kept getting bigger and bigger,” said Marsha, who like Hannah, didn’t get the full, satisfied feeling that tells a person to stop eating.
“You have this infillable hunger, and it’s not just in your mind,” she said. “You’re just starving.”
A year before, having failed all attempts to lose weight, Marsha had traveled to a doctor in Tijuana, Mexico who specializes in surgically fitting small-saline filled life preservers around the tops of stomachs, a device called an adjustable gastric band. Like gastric bypass surgery, the procedure is meant to reduce the amount of food that can be eaten.
And unlike a gastric bypass, it’s reversible.
To help dangerously overweight people shed pounds, the federal government in 2001 approved the device for use in adults — but not for children. Tests to determine the effects of the devices on teens as young as 14 are under way. But not for 12-year-olds.
For Marsha, the results were dramatic. For the first time, when she ate, she felt full–and didn’t eat any more after that. She has lost, and kept off, 100 pounds since the surgery in November 2005.
She wanted to get the procedure for Hannah, but she didn’t want her to have to travel.
“I called everyone. They said, `No way, we’re not doing a kid.'”
So she called her doctor in Mexico.
As a result, Hannah is now a 150-pound, 5-foot-10-inch 14-year-old who hangs around the house in soccer shorts and dismisses talk of turning to basketball. Because of her age, Marsha said, her skin shrunk back in with her frame.
“She lost a whole person,” Marsha said, who hopes the implants are approved for other obese children as young as Hannah.
“There are a lot of obese kids,” she said.
Obesity poses health risks by the dozen–such as diabetes, sleep apnea and heart disease–and that’s apart from the social stigma for those dangerously obese. Among Americans older than 20, 140 million are overweight or obese, the American Heart Association reported this year.
The procedure costs about 50 to 75 percent less in Mexico, and Americans have been flocking to doctors like Pedro Kuri, the doctor who fitted both Marsha and Hannah with their lap bands. But it wasn’t for the discount that Marsha took Hannah went to see Dr. Kuri, despite the surgery costing less than it would have in the United States.
“I would have paid the money,” Marsha said. “Not for myself, but for Hannah.”
Also known by the brand-name LAP-BAND, the device is adjusted by injecting fluid into a small reservoir just below the skin. When tightened, the band creates a small pouch of stomach with a pinky-sized passage, thus triggering the full feeling before a person can swallow a little more than half a cup of chewed food.
Marsha believes the band saved Hannah’s life and could save the lives of other kids. Her doctor believes it changed her life. But the jury is still out on whether the surgery is safe for children as young as Hannah.
“Keep in mind that this is drastic surgery, and there would be obvious concerns with using such a device in children who are still growing, Food and Drug Administration spokeswoman Kris Mejía said in an e-mail. “Even for adults, there is a requirement of several years of having been morbidly obese.”
“Sometimes I have my doubts about teenagers because they don’t act like an adult,” Kuri said during a phone interview. “I have adults that don’t act like they should.”
Teenagers must have a long, serious conversation with him beforehand, and he has refused to perform the implant on teens who weren’t mature enough. He said Hannah was a self possessed, confident, emotionally mature girl, and having a long talk with her convinced Kuri she could carefully watch what she ate.
He has given implants to 15-year-olds, a 14-year-old recently and a 12-year-old other than Hannah. He said the procedure doesn’t interfere with the maturation process. And, Kuri added, if left unchecked, the teens and Hannah would be beyond morbidly obese by the time they are in their 20s.
All told, he’s performed more than 3,500 surgeries over the past 10 years. And 99 percent of the patients were American, he said.
Age sometimes is the deciding factor. He was approached about putting the implant in a 10-year-old.
“I said: `No way. It’s not a magic wand,” Kuri said.
Those who opt for a band can cheat by eating ice cream and milkshakes. But beside cheating, there are possible complications, such as stretching out the pouch–which Hannah has experienced–as well as productive burping and the inherent risk of surgery. Other common side effects include nausea, vomiting, heartburn and abdominal pain.
The more serious side effects require can either another operation or hospitalization, according to an FDA notice when the band was first approved.
Marsha said overeating was the cause of her and Hannah’s weight problems.
And they overate because they could never get the full sensation that tells people to quit. And they were always hungry.
“I don’t really think about food,” Hannah said. “I think about important things.”
At first, Hannah didn’t have much interest in being a “bandster,” as Marsha calls it, and she didn’t have self-confidence problems. But as she watched her mom lose weight, and become happier, she came around to the idea.
Hannah said she has a sense of what life would be like without the band. She would not have lost the weight, she might have gotten heavier, and she would have likely dropped out of school. Marsha said she would have been home-schooled.
“I feel like a whole new person, I can finally be the kid I want to be,” she said. “When I was big, I’d stand in the middle of the field and wait for the ball to come to me.
“Now I go for the ball.”