12-Year-Old Girl Has Liposuction

ByABC News via logo

Nov. 6, 2006 — -- Childhood can be a tough place for an overweight kid, as other children can be brutal with cruel words, laughter and cold stares.

In a documentary called, "Fat Like Me," obese kids talked about the pain they experienced.

One boy said, "I'm like the prey. People come after me because I'm fat."

"I eat and I feel worse. And then, I gain weight. And then, I keep eating," said another overweight girl in the film.

Brooke Bates, of Austin, Tex., has struggled with her weight since early childhood, gaining the nickname, "Big Brooke."

She described herself as a giant balloon, one that was ever expanding, and none of the countless diets she tried seemed to make any difference.

By age 11, Brooke weighed 180 pounds; a year later, at 5-foot-5, she rose to a shocking 220 pounds, and her doctors classified her as morbidly obese.

Feeling helpless and isolated, Brooke needed a radical approach. She and her family considered gastric bypass surgery but feared it was too risky.

After watching a documentary on weight loss, 12-year-old Brooke decided on liposuction, a procedure thought to sculpt an imperfect body, not treat obesity.

She went to see Dr. Robert Ersek, a leading plastic surgeon in Austin. At first he was opposed to the idea.

"I don't think that every 12-year-old should come in and get a few pounds taken off by liposuction, but in certain cases where all else has failed, it can change their life to be a normal person," Ersek said.

Brooke's interview with Ersek before surgery shed light on her fears and her hopes for a normal future.

"Maybe If I could do it I would look a little normal," she told him.

Not only was the extra weight affecting Brooke's self-esteem, but it was seriously affecting her health.

Her mother, Cindy, said that Brooke's blood pressure was sky high, and doctors said she was at risk for a stroke.

Ersek agreed to go through with the procedure, and removed 35 pounds of fat and fluid from her body. Today, Brooke weighs 153 pounds. She and her family called the surgery a miracle.

"It just changed my life in so many ways," Brooke said today on "Good Morning America."

But many doctors question whether serious cosmetic surgery like liposuction is wise for such a young person.

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, more than 3,000 people under age 18 underwent liposuction last year.

Dr. Susan Manzi of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center said that liposuction, which removes significant amounts of fluid and fat from the body at once, is risky and controversial for both young people and adults.

"It [liposuction] can lead to complications such as infection or bleeding, or even shock, because so much fluid is removed," Manzi said. "But in addition to that, a lot of the experts question the ability for a 12-year-old to fully comprehend the risks and benefits of the types of the surgeries ... and the idea that there has to be major lifestyle changes to allow this to be permanent."

Another doctor from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center calls the surgery a "dangerous precedent."

"We as a society need to reach our children at a young age and educate them on the benefits of exercise and wise eating habits," said Dr. Susan Obagi. "I do not want to see this become a trend."

"I would like to see what the patient looks like after a few more years," Obagi continued. "As those of us who perform liposuction know, patients with bad eating habits will oftentimes eat themselves into a fatter body again."

For more on Brooke's story, pick up the latest issue of People Magazine, on newsstands now.