Radical Weight Loss Surgery Removes 85 Percent of Patient's Stomach

Radical bariatric surgery removes 85 percent of obese patient's stomach.

ByABC News
October 25, 2010, 2:01 PM

Oct. 25, 2010— -- The mound of pill bottles lying on Bob Brasell's chest kept growing.

"This is for Lipari for diabetes," he said, plunking yet another pill bottle onto his hospital gown, "one of these every morning. This is Metformin, take two of these for diabetes every night...that's for cholesterol, I think."

Those are just some of the 15 or so pills Brasell takes every day to battle the deadly health conditions associated with his obesity.

At 320 pounds, Brasell is joining the growing ranks of thousands of Americans fighting against obesity, not through diet or exercise, but through an emerging and extreme surgery called vertical sleeve gastrectomy.

It's a radical, yet remarkably simple surgery in which 85 percent of the patient's stomach is removed in a procedure that lasts less than an hour. An increasing number of Americans whose insurance won't cover the surgery are paying in cash or credit, and having the procedure done on an outpatient basis.

Brasell is one of them. In a hospital gown at West Jefferson Medical Center in Marrero, Louisiana, he lay bundled on a bed too narrow for his girth. He has to keep his arms on his stomach to keep them from dropping off the sides.

Before going into surgery, Brasell's heavy-lidded blue eyes were bloodshot. He complained of thirst and craved food -- patients are required to fast before surgery.

But in less than three hours he is wheeled into an operating room and lifted onto a specifically made bed certified up to hold 500 pounds, but is capable of bearing 1,500 pounds.

Brasell's surgeon, Dr. David Treen, preached the benefits of the sleeve gastrectomy.

"It's not unusual for us to see a patient lose 100 pounds in six months with this," Treen said.

Treen said the weight loss happens because the bulk of the stomach is removed permanently -- gently eased out of a dime-sized hole in the abdomen. Perhaps as important, the part of the stomach that's taken out is also the area associated with the production of the hormone ghrelin.

"Ghrelin is a powerful appetite stimulant, and when you remove this part of the stomach, most of our patients tell us after surgery, they're not hungry. Ever," Treen said.