Teen Undergoes Controversial Surgery, Loses 198 Pounds

Fellow classmates ridiculed 16-year-old KeAira Willis nonstop. They called her "Wobble," because of the peculiar way she walked down the crowded hallways.

For many students, high school is a rough time filled with awkwardness and discomfort, but for KeAira, who was 5 feet, 1 inch and weighed 368 pounds, going to school became a particularly rough ordeal.

Taunted and Ignored

Kids teased her and teachers, she said, looked the other way. And when she struck back, overcome with anger and frustration, KeAira found herself suspended for fighting.

"I get mad, I wanna fight," she said. Only rarely would she let strangers see the humor and sweetness hidden behind a wall of anger and hurt.

As is often the case for children who struggle with obesity, KeAira's whole family is overweight. Her mother, Trina Willis, knew only too well how painful life was for her daughter.

"I can't stop everybody from staring," said Trina Willis. "Our family's big. You've never seen nobody fat? You've never seen a fat family before? They just see the weight."

For KeAira, repeated attempts to diet failed, and finally fed up with the stares and the persecution, she took a controversial and bold step. She decided to have gastric bypass surgery (also known as bariatric surgery), an operation that would turn her stomach into a pouch the size of a walnut.

Gastric Bypass Surgery

The procedure is not commonly performed on teens because the long-term results are uncertain.

"I first talked to the surgeons here about the possibility of developing bariatric surgery because I was seeing children literally dying from their co-morbidities from obesity," said Dr. William Klish, the head of the obesity clinic at the Texas Children's Hospital in Houston.

But when it comes to children, gastric bypass surgery becomes controversial. The controversy stems from not knowing how it will affect growth. Doctors still do not know the effects it will have on growing brains and bodies.

"[That's] why we are doing this whole thing as a research project. We are doing it very slowly, very deliberately," said Klish. He said KeAira was an extreme example of where American children are heading.

"In my estimation, obesity is the most serious public health problem we have in America today," said Klish. "There is a huge price tag at all levels. First of all, just the medical costs of all this could become overwhelming. We think we have a problem with insurance costs now, just wait another 10 or 20 years when this generation of children starts developing all these diseases."

Fat City

Houston, where Willis and her family live, certainly has a weight problem. Considered one of the nation's fattest cities, Klish said the degree of childhood obesity there was staggering. "We know in the city of Houston that 22 percent of our children are obese. That means that there are 220,000 children in the city of Houston who are obese."

But kids aren't only getting fatter; they're also getting sick earlier in their lives. Obesity isn't just a cosmetic problem; it's a medical problem.

Type 2 diabetes, which 15 years ago was virtually nonexistent in kids, is now becoming much more common. Some young patients at Texas Children's register very high blood sugar levels.

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