Teen Weight Loss: Going Under the Knife

Lauren Richmond says lap band surgery changed her life

Teens going under the knife to shed pounds. Sounds extreme but according to a new study to be published in the Journal of the American Medical Association after two years, teens who had lap band surgery lost 76.2 pounds on average. Those who had a lifestyle intervention, i.e., diet and exercise, lost 6.6 pounds.

Lauren Richmond says the lap band surgery changed her life. At 14 years old and 5'3", Lauren weighed 210 pounds. She tried everything to lose the weight. Weight Watchers, diets, exercise. It wasn't enough to overcome a family history of high blood pressure, diabetes and thyroid problems. She says her aunt saw Dr. Ariel Ortiz  on Oprah, a surgeon who specializes in gastric surgery, and accepts teen patients. Lauren and her mother Crystal flew to Mexico for Lauren's lap band procedure.

Now, two years later, Lauren is 80 pounds lighter. To those who think she made an extreme decision to cross the border, she says she hasn't had any complications and she would recommend Dr. Ortiz. She flew back to Mexico for one follow up visit two months after her original procedure and says she's been healthy and happy, "Before I was depressed and alone. Now I'm out of my shell and I'm confident and outgoing. I love doing all kinds of things. Once you see you are actually losing weight, you're willing to exercise, and eat right in order to make it work."

Dr. Richard Nguyen, a bariatric surgeon at Advanced Surgical Associates says the lap band procedure is safe and effective, and has advantages over traditional gastric bypass surgery because it is less invasive, and patients recover faster. "You don't have to cut across any part of the intestines. You just wrap the band, so it can be removed. It is also quicker and there is less risk of mortality."

Dr. Nguyen says surgery can help obese teens when diet and exercise aren't enough. "Some kids, no matter what they eat, they're not able to lose weight or they're gaining weight constantly no matter what they eat or do. They have adult medical problems. They have heart disease. They have high blood pressure and diabetes that you only find in people typically much older than they are."

However, Dr. Nguyen says the lap-band surgery isn't a magic bullet when it comes to weight loss. Diet and exercise still play a major role. "We talk about weight loss surgery as a tool for a patient to use. If you have any of these procedures and don't eat the right foods, there can be complications from the surgery."

Dr. Nguyen says patients who undergo surgery outside the country may be at higher risk for complications if they don't have the ability to have ongoing care and follow up visits. And for patients who may need adjustments or additional surgery, doctors in the U.S. can be reluctant to perform procedures if they were not the patient's original doctor.

The Australian government paid for the study and lap band maker Allergan provided free lap-bands. The study could help win FDA approval of the Lap-Band surgical procedure for use on obese teens. It may also push insurers to cover the costs. Out of pocket costs for the lap-band surgery average between $15,000 and $17,000.

Lauren Richmond says she hopes the surgeries will soon be available in the United States for teens who've tried everything else. "There are so many teens out there who deserve to have fun, date, go to proms and homecomings and be teenagers without the stress of being obese."

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