Sharing life after weight-loss surgery

PRETTY BIG LOSER <br>As these before and after photos show, Dieter Davis is living proof that weight-loss surgery works.

As these before and after photos show, Dieter Davis is living proof that weight-loss surgery works.

Courtesy of Dieter Davis

Dieter Davis is half the man he used to be—literally.

Not that long ago he was grossly obese, weighing 408 pounds. He’d struggled with weight all his life and as a child had been taunted by his peers. He felt self-conscious about fitting in chairs, going to the movies and putting on seat belts.

Today, at the age of 28, he weighs in at a svelte 192 pounds, thanks to exercise, dieting and, most important, weight-loss surgery.

To help prospective and post-operative patients of weight-loss surgery, Davis started a Chico support group through the San Francisco-based Pacific Laparoscopy, which performs a variety of surgeries for the morbidly obese.

As has been well documented by innumerable studies, including one performed by the Centers for Disease Control, obesity is on the rise in the United States. In 1990, none of the 50 states had obesity rates higher than 20 percent. Today, 17 states have obesity rates at or over 20 percent, with Louisiana, Mississippi and West Virginia clocking in with obesity rates of 30 percent.

The reasons for the increase are familiar. Infant overfeeding, lack of exercise and kids trading in jump ropes and basketballs for Nintendo controllers all contribute to obesity, said Dr. John Husted, a surgeon with Pacific Laparoscopy, who spoke at Tuesday night’s (Nov. 28) support meeting at the Cozy Diner in Chico.

To curtail the obesity epidemic, many Americans are opting for weight-loss, or bariatric, surgeries that reduce the size of the stomach, limiting the amount of food a person can consume. In 2004, more than 140,000 bariatric surgeries were performed, compared to 12,775 procedures in 1998, the American Society for Bariatric Surgery estimates.

After many years of nutritionists, dieting, camps and memberships in gyms and a weight-loss program yielded little or no weight loss, Davis opted for a procedure called a laparoscopic duodenal switch. This surgery—in which very small incisions are made in the abdomen and the actual surgery is done by laparoscopic probes that include a tiny camera and light—reduces the stomach to a four-ounce capacity and divides the small intestine into two segments.

Laparoscopic surgery is considered to offer many advantages compared to the traditional form of surgery, which involves cutting large incisions and doing the surgery by hand, according to Pacific Laparoscopy’s Web site.

However, the surgeries don’t come without side effects, Davis said. There can be problems with absorption of nutrients, feelings of nausea and general discomfort. There is also a 1 percent risk of death.

On the other hand, he added, obesity itself is far more dangerous, leading to high blood pressure, sleep apnea, diabetes and early death.

For Davis, the most difficult part of the surgery experience wasn’t nausea, weakness or eating. Rather, he had trouble keeping a wardrobe to fit his ever-changing frame.

“Last week, I had to spend over $400 for new clothes,” he said.

All of these things, from shopping woes to side effects, are discussed at the monthly support meetings, and anyone is welcome, he said.

Since the group’s first meeting two months ago, a handful of people have attended. Davis said he hopes the number will grow, as discussing experiences with others is helpful to those interested in the surgery and those who are recovering from it.

“It’s just a work in progress,” he said. “And that’s what we’re doing.”

The support meetings are held from 6 to 8 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of every month at Cozy Diner on Mangrove. For more information, go to