When a Charleston doctor told 59-year-old Tara Campbell that she might consider bariatric surgery to lose weight, she balked.
“I was like, ‘What the heck are you talking about? What do you mean?’ ” she said. “I was shocked that I was a candidate for this. You think this is for people who weigh 600 pounds.”
Campbell didn’t weigh 600 pounds, not even close, but her 5-foot-1-inch frame and her body mass index, which measured 35 at the time, certainly qualified her for weight loss surgery. She fit the medical definition of obesity.
“I didn’t know I was that bad,” Campbell said.
After her appointment, she relayed the doctor’s advice to her husband. He encouraged her to listen.
“He said, ‘Tara, you’ve tried everything. Look into it.’ ”
Last month, Campbell opted for the gastric sleeve, a surgery which reduced the size of her stomach by about 80 percent, from the size of a football to the size of a small banana. Three weeks post-operation, she had lost 23 pounds.
“I already feel so much better,” she said.
In 2010, fewer than 10 percent of bariatric surgery patients in the United States chose to undergo the gastric sleeve operation. Four years later, in 2014, when 193,000 people had bariatric surgery, it became the most popular procedure.
Medicare and some private insurance plans cover the surgery. The South Carolina Medicaid agency started paying for the gastric sleeve operation for obese beneficiaries earlier this month.
Nina Crowley, a registered dietitian and the bariatric surgery program coordinator at the Medical University of South Carolina, explained that, unlike traditional gastric bypass surgery, the gastric sleeve operation leaves the small intestine intact.
Gastric bypass surgery, by contrast, may help obese patients lose slightly more weight because it literally bypasses a portion of the small intestines.
Less food is absorbed into the body.
But the gastric sleeve procedure is often more attractive for many patients because it’s a simpler operation, Crowley said.
Physicians at Roper St. Francis, Trident Health and the VA hospital also perform the procedure.
Malikah Moore said she lost more than 100 pounds since she had the gastric sleeve operation last summer.
“It really changed my life,” she said. But it hasn’t been easy.
“People think it’s just an easy way to lose weight. That’s what I thought, too, but it’s definitely not. It took a lot to lose 100 pounds in a year,” Moore said. “I changed my relationship with food. I went to therapy. I looked at the triggers that made me want to eat in the first place. I had to exercise. I still do have to exercise.”
Campbell wants to lose 75 pounds. Already, her ankles aren’t swollen and her knees don’t hurt so much. Before surgery, she said she couldn’t control her appetite. Best of all, she said, those cravings are gone now.
“I was out of control before and begging for help and didn’t know what to do,” she said. “I want everyone to know about this surgery. You don’t have to live your life in misery.”
Reach Lauren Sausser at 843-937-5598.