DRASTIC weight loss surgery that involves removing up to 80 per cent of a person’s stomach has doctors divided.

We need a better solution than this. We need to make sure folks don’t get this obese in the first place. And yes, we need to make sure an operation like this isn’t normalized.

Some say it’s so risky they won’t even perform it while others say patients can lose 30-40kg in a year and can still eat bread and pasta.

The drastic operation called sleeve gastrectomy – or “sleeving” – can result in serious complications and is 10 times more dangerous than lap-banding.

Once the outer part of the stomach is completely removed via keyhole technique, the remaining piece of the stomach is stapled to form a banana-shaped tube.

This reduces its holding capacity from about 2L to 100mL, increasing stomach pressure after eating small portions to make people feel full more quickly.

One of Australia’s “sleeving” pioneers, Dr Michael Talbot, said the most serious complication is gastric fluid leaking from the staple line causing serious infection that can result in a month-long hospital stay or even death.

Lap-banding is safer and Dr Talbot warned that sleeving should only be performed on the morbidly obese in need of rapid weight loss.

“That risk varies from 0.5 per cent to 3 per cent depending on the centre where the surgery is occurring and the experience of the surgeon,” said Dr Talbot, an upper gastro intestinal surgeon at St George Public and Pri- vate Hospitals.

“If there are several hundred cases a year, statistically speaking it will happen. Whereas the risk of significant complications of a similar magnitude is one in 1000 or less with the gastric band.”

Dr Talbot said on average, patients lose 60 per cent of the extra weight they carry, or 30-40kg over 12 months.

Dr Ali Zarrouk, who performed the first sleeve gastrectomy at Campbelltown Private Hospital in September, said

patients who have a sleeve gastrectomy lose weight immediately and don’t have to avoid pasta, bread or meat.

Single mother Sharon Fairbairn weighed 105kg and struggled to run after her seven-year-old daughter, Anabella, when she had the radical operation in September last year. “I wish I’d done it 10 years ago,” she said.

After Medicare cover, out-of-pocket expenses range between $3000 and $7000 for the procedure.

But surgeon and associate professor at the Centre for Obesity Research and Education Wendy Brown refuses to perform sleeve gastrectomies as the surgery is too risky.

“With a (gastric) band or even a (gastric) bypass you can actually do another operation if you find out you’ve done it wrong, but with a sleeve gastrectomy you’ve taken a patient’s stomach out,” she said. “They can’t grow another stomach.”


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