Studies: Gastric Bypass More Dangerous than Thought

Studies: Gastric Bypass More Dangerous than Thought

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Tonya Papanikolas Reporting Hundreds of Utahns every year turn to gastric bypass surgery to help shed excess weight, but national data shows the surgery isn't as safe as many people think.

Four years ago Jolene Brasher weighed 262 pounds. Today she’s about 120 pounds lighter after gastric bypass surgery.

Jolene Brasher, Had Gastric Bypass Surgery: “With the birth of my first grandchild, it was an absolute that I wanted to be there for the next that would come along."

Jolene still has the size 24 pants she used to wear...

Jolene Brasher: “My life's too full and there's too much good that I don't ever want to be here again."

Gastric bypass surgery is becoming more common. Doctors at St. Mark's hospital perform up to one thousand procedures a year.

Dr. Rod McKinlay, Surgeon, Rocky Mountain Associated Physicians: “Increasingly, patients are being referred by physicians as opposed to self-referrals."

McKinley says the surgery helps a lot of people, but still holds significant risks.

Dr. Rod McKinlay: “I wish we knew exactly who was going to do well with the surgery before. We don't."

A new study shows the risk of stomach surgery is greater than once thought. Out of more than 16-thousand patients nationwide, two-percent died within 30 days of surgery. After 90 days, almost three percent had died; after a year, more than four percent.

Dr. Christina Richards, Salt Lake Regional Medical Center: “It doesn't matter how rare it is. If it's one percent or four percent, if it happens to you, it's 100-percent."

The study also showed men have a higher death rate than women and people over 65 have a significant risk. Another factor was how many bypasses surgeons had performed.

Dr. McKinlay: “More people are doing the surgery, perhaps not with the wealth of experience."

While the national data is startling, Utah doctors say it's important to look at statistics of the local surgeons and hospitals. The Rocky Mountain Physicians have one death for every 743 patients. Salt Lake Regional's program is much newer. They've had 40 patients with one death.

Dr. Richards: “They really have to be aware of what the risks are and go into it with their eyes wide open."

For some patients like Jolene, the risks are worth it.

Jolene: “I would do it again in a heartbeat, in a heartbeat."

But doctors say each candidate must weigh all the factors and make their own decision.

Another study in California found nearly 20-percent of patients were hospitalized in the year following the operation, mostly from complications.

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