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Monday, March 31, 2008

She used her retirement savings: Gastric banding surgery

"I weighed 424 pounds in May 2004, before losing 250 pounds [from gastric banding surgery],”"said Sandi Henderson, a dark-haired woman in her 50s. Gastric banding restricts food intake through an elective surgical procedure in which a surgeon wraps a silicone band around the upper stomach. This creates a small pouch that limits food intake. After it's installed, the doctor makes periodic adjustments depending on the patient's weight loss, food craving, and physical reaction to the band. Patients typically need four to six adjustments in the first year, and two to three in the next two years or so.

Sandi swims every morning and has tossed out her old medications. "I put my food-addiction money toward shopping and exercise," she laughed. Since her insurance specifically excluded bariatric surgery, Sandi says she used some of her retirement savings to pay for the procedure.

Like any major surgery, gastric banding patients have a risk of infection and even death. The silicone device can shift after surgery, causing it to lose effectiveness, or erode into the stomach. No one knows how long it will last inside the body, so patients may eventually need another operation to replace or remove it. And some surgeons say the banding causes a smaller weight loss than do other procedures.

Advice to people looking to lose a lot of weight: Exercise will help keep off the pounds, even if surgery helps you lose a lot of weight quickly.

Browse for related stories in the index at the very bottom of this page, or read a gastric bypass story.

Thanks to Rhonda Rundle for the source story in the March 31 issue of the Wall Street Journal, "Industry Giants Push Obesity Surgery."

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