Of all the bariatric (weight loss) surgeries done today, 60% of them are sleeve gastrectomies, also known as gastric sleeve surgeries. Originally a preliminary weight loss measure to make gastric bypass surgery safer for high-risk patients, the surprising effectiveness turned it into an independent form of bariatric surgery. The lower risk was also more appealing to patients in general.
The average weight loss is 30% of the patient’s Body Mass Index (BMI), compared to 40% for gastric bypass surgery. That is a large difference. However, less than 1% of gastric sleeve surgeries result in serious complications within a month, compared to 1.25% for gastric bypass surgery. It also has a 1.5% rate of needed reoperation for complications, compared to 7.7% for gastric bypass surgery, and a 0.08% mortality rate, compared to 0.14% for gastric bypass surgery. Those are also large differences that should be taken into account.
Statistics, however, are just that: statistics. Understanding the risks, the possible discomforts and complications, cannot simply be read in lists or described in pre- and post-op guidelines. To feel the reality of what gastric sleeve surgery is and can do, first-hand accounts and testimonies are better indicators. In this section, statistics are paired with first-hand accounts to show the truth behind the results of gastric sleeve surgery.
Gastric Sleeve and Asthma: 82% Improved or Resolved
Those who have never had an asthmatic attack do not know the agony of fighting for breath to the point of tears, feeling like giving up would mean death. The swollen condition of inflamed airways makes breathing a painful and tiring effort for asthmatics. Unfortunately, obese adults are 5 times more likely to have asthma. The added weight places pressure on the airways, while the lungs are already working twice as hard.
Mona R., around 60 years old, was chronically obese and had been trying to lose the weight her entire life. “I have a huge track record. I sat down to write my weight loss history and I ran out of paper.” Mona had gastric sleeve surgery in 2010. Before that, her rapidly growing weight was beginning to endanger her life. “I was prediabetic, had asthma and my knees were killing me. I wanted to walk up a flight of stairs without huffing and puffing.” Thankfully, she had a family that stood with her. “My son was like, ‘Ma, go for it’ and my daughter was like, ‘Do you really need to do this?’ and I said, ‘My knees are killing me, I can’t lose weight any other way, so yes this is what I have to do.” After the gastric sleeve surgery, she proudly says, “I no longer need an inhaler, and my knees are better.” She went from hospital patient to helpmate of her mother, who recently had a stroke. Before the surgery, this is something she would never even have conceived of.
Betsy is another patient who decided to fight asthma for herself and her family, through gastric sleeve surgery. Her fear stemmed from a memory: “[My mother] was only 41 years old when she died from a fatal asthma attack. I was just 11.” In 2012, she herself was rushed to the hospital because of an asthma attack, as her own daughter looked on. She says, “I felt like I was reliving my own childhood. […] But at 100 pounds overweight with asthma and Type 2 diabetes that was complicated by hypertension, I was a bomb waiting to explode.” She added, “I vowed I would not go down without a fight—not just for me but for my husband, daughter and two sons.” In 2013, Betsy had gastric sleeve surgery. She testifies, “Within the first week of my surgery, my diabetes had improved and I knew I had made the right decision. […] The true payoff is that my diabetes is stable, as is [sic] my asthma and blood pressure. I can walk without shortness of breath. […] Now, I go to bed at night without worrying that I won’t wake up.”
Gastric Sleeve and Depression: 55% Improved or Resolved
Depression is an emotional state that involves severe low spirits, so much so that thoughts can turn sucidal. Obesity is one cause of the depression, since obese adults are 25% more likely to experience it than non-obese adults. Also, 43% of depressed adults are obese, and 55% of adults on antidepressants are obese.
Danelle struggled all her life to stick to a single diet and allow it to work for her. Unfortunately, when stressed, her comfort activity was eating. “I was also battling depression and this also caused my weight to balloon. I was miserable, cranky and had no motivation what so ever [sic] to lose weight.” After attending a seminar and doing extensive research on weight loss surgeries, she decided that the gastric sleeve surgery would just suit her. She concludes, “My world doesn’t revolve around food anymore. I have learnt to socialise without the need to gorge myself silly on huge fatty meals. […] I have learnt to appreciate food.”
In the Yukon in Northwest Canada beside Alaska, Ingrid of the Wolf Clan was not considered in danger of being overweight, they just thought of her, and she thought of herself, as the “big girl.” But an event occurred that was dangerously passed over. “After the birth of her son, she battled with postpartum depression. But 20 years ago in a place where new doctors were shipped in every two weeks, postpartum depression wasn’t a thing. Ingrid gained weight. She was depressed and she ate.” She said, “I was literally packing on so much hurt and pain. It was there for everyone to see, only I didn’t see it.” After surgery, she lost enough weight to begin exercising daily. She testifies, “My entire life, my entire being, my entire soul has changed.”
Gastric Sleeve and Type 2 Diabetes: 83% Resolved
Up to 85% of the risk of getting Type 2 diabetes is caused by obesity. Obese adults, with a Body Mass Index [BMI] of 30 or greater, are 80 times more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than those who are normal (BMI below 22, as opposed to overweight, 23-30). Type 2 diabetes is the point when the blood sugar regulation is fully malfunctioning. Prediabetes is when blood sugar is rising fast enough to threaten Type 2 diabetes.
Georg M., 52, is a nurse practitioner who found herself fighting her weight since age 20. She admits, “I have been significantly overweight since my early 30s. I have done every diet out there. Of course they all worked, for a while, but then I would ‘fall off the wagon’ and regain all of the weight I had lost, and usually a few more pounds as well.” In 2011, Geog was told she had Type 2 diabetes. “I was devastated. […] Even though I was overweight, I have always been very active and was planning to go away on my first medical mission very soon.” After research, she discovered that she had a 75% chance of losing weight with bariatric surgery, compared to a 5% chance with traditional diets and exercise. She went in for gastric sleeve surgery, and testifies, “My blood sugar normalized the day after my surgery and never went up again.”
Allan V., a city councillor, also suffered diabetes related to obesity. He says, “I was having a lot of trouble trying to control my diabetes, I was ‘insulin resistant,’ and the insulin in large amount [sic] was not doing what we had hoped to control my blood sugar.” Because of this insulin resistance, Councillor Allan did not have very many options open to him. Even if he was on a diet, the blood sugar was uncontrollable. This also meant that vigorous exercise meant to lower weight was out of the question. With his blood sugar on a roller coaster ride, regulation of health during exercise would be impossible. Therefore, gastric sleeve surgery became the solution. He states, “My diabetes resolved immediately. I have not taken any insulin since before the operation and I stopped all other medications as well. […] My eye doctor, my GP, my chiropractor and my nutritionist all say I have no diabetes […].”
Eric, a father, was already in a weight loss program when he discovered that he had diabetes. He said, “I was 44 years old with hypertension, low testosterone, sleep apnea and now diabetes. I was a time bomb and was afraid I wouldn’t see my children graduate high school.” Even before the surgery, he fought to give himself the best chances for weight loss and healthy living, and lost 50 pounds before surgery, in addition to the 25 pounds he had lost before finding out that he had diabetes. Now, he says, “I am no longer a diabetic and don’t have hypertension or sleep apnea.” He steadily fights any possibility of returning to old habits: “I became a runner, started kickboxing, and I finally completed the Max Challenge!”
Gastric Sleeve and Hypertension: 52-92% Resolved
Obesity causes 26% and 28% of the hypertension cases for men and women respectively. Because of the excess fatty tissue that is being carried around, the heart has a harder time pumping blood through the body. Because it is working so hard, it increases the pressure of the blood against the vessel walls, leading to hypertension. Weight loss almost automatically restores normal blood pressure.
Judith Pusch was a member of the local swim team until she turned 12. When it moved away, she found herself with nothing to do. She says, “I got into the habit of coming home from school and just eating as much as I wanted without any supervision.” Eventually, she became diagnosed with hypertension. As she began to feel depression from ineffective weight loss strategies, she turned to gastric sleeve surgery. She says that ‘she is now able to “Swim like I used to when I was a kid. Before I could not even swim 25 yards.” She is now able to swim four thousand five hundred yards.’
Ambrose, 49 and a business owner, described his condition: “I was having trouble breathing with very little exertion, and I wanted to quit smoking. I also had high cholesterol and blood pressure.” Because of his breathing problem and the added challenge of quitting his smoking habit, Ambrose realized that drastic measures were probably what he needed to save his life. After undergoing gastric sleeve surgery, he says, “Two weeks after surgery my doctor cut my blood pressure meds in half, and a month after surgery I was totally off the blood pressure and cholesterol meds.” He adds, “I no longer lay [sic] on the couch and watch TV, I have so much energy that I can’t sit still anymore. […] I definitely feel I have prolonged my life by having this surgery, because before this surgery I was on a very short dead end street.”
Gastric Sleeve and Orthopedic Problems or Degenerative Joint Disease: 41-76% Resolved
Every extra pound of weight turns into 4 to 6 extra pounds experienced by the knee joints. The cushioning on the knee joint can wear and tear away if overloaded, causing need for corrective surgery. The risk of total knee arthroplasty (knee joint replacement) is 8.5 times higher for overweight to obese adults. Obese adults are also 48% more at risk of musculoskeletal injuries than non-obese adults.
By the time he was 52, Steve had had 6 knee surgeries because he was overweight and could not seem to lose the weight however he tried. Because of all the knee surgeries, he admits, “running was hard, and walking very uncomfortable.” He adds, “I had allergies, sleep apnia [sic], [and] that much weight was very hard on my bad knee.” After the gastric sleeve surgery, he could not wait to get on his feet. “After I woke up from sleeve surgery, within half an hour, I was walking the halls. Very little pain. […] I no longer snore, my allergies are almost non-existent, and my bad knee is not as painful.”
Gastric Sleeve and Sleep Apnea: 74-98% Resolved
Sleep apnea is a condition in which the sleeper’s airway becomes partially or wholly blocked, and he or she is kicked awake by the brain, coughing for air. Of obese adults, 45% have sleep apnea. The extra weight places pressure on the airway, blocking it partially or wholly. In some cases, weight loss is the only effective response to sleep apnea.
Denita Jones, from San Antonio Texas, was never warned about the effects of a diet of candy and soda. Even the family physician reassured them that she was only growing. Eventually Denita met someone who tried to help her. “A neighborhood friend, named Pam, […] had lost a child in her own family that was overweight to a heart attack at the young age of 13.” Denita resisted after 2 months, and dieted on snicker bars and 160 ounces of soda a day. “Denita was also put on a CPAP [Continuous Positive Airway Pressure] machine at night due to obstructive sleep apnea that had developed as a result of the obesity.” After gastric sleeve surgery, she “lost a whole person,” as someone commented. She also lost her sleep apnea. “I used to sound like a bear tearing down walls, but now I sleep like a baby.”
Ryan S. found one of the best reasons to drastically change his lifestyle: his children. He says, “I battled major anxiety, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, borderline diabetes and severe sleep apnea—I stopped breathing 98 times an hour while sleeping!” He decided to go with gastric sleeve surgery, and make an irrevocable decision to follow a healthy lifestyle, instead of using the reversible gastric band surgery. He no longer suffers from sleep apnea. In fact, he testifies, “I no longer sit in the house watching TV. My confidence is better. I exercise 3-4 times a week—I even run! […] I don’t have to worry about breaking chairs, sitting in restaurant booths […]. I can bend over and tie my shoes without being out of breath. I no longer sweat profusely while standing in place.”
Gastric Sleeve Statistics + Stories = Success
Instead of depending only on impersonal numbers and statistics to present the successes of gastric sleeve surgery, we show here a number of first-hand stories. Those who have encountered gastric sleeve surgery testify to the new lease of life that they have received, against asthma, hypertension, sleep apnea, and other obesity-related complications.
However, it is important to know that there are a number of other factors that lead to success. For example, support groups are a crucial part of post-surgery weight loss success. Support groups help patients lose up to 1.6 more off their BMI than patients who do not. They also have around 10% less BMI on average. The accountability keeps them constantly losing weight. A complete change in eating and exercise habits also characterizes many of the success stories. Finding motivation in their children and families, they do a complete 180-degree turn to change their lifestyles, to make sure that they are going to be there for those they love.