Timing is important for bariatric surgery
Experts recommend weight loss surgery before reaching BMI of 40, but our lawsuit experience highlights common complications
As a Texas medical malpractice lawyer, I have filed lawsuits on behalf of numerous clients who had life-changing problems from bariatric weight-loss surgery.
There a variety of weight-loss procedures that are frequently advertised on Houston billboards, television commercials, and radio advertisements. They include lap band, gastric bypass, Roux-en-Y bypass, gastric sleeve, gastric imbrication, duodenal switch, and others.
In my experience, frequent complications from bariatric surgery include gastric outlet obstruction (inability to get or keep food and liquids down), infections, and gastric dumping syndrome (having to go the restroom frequently). I have represented clients who were told that they would never be able to eat solid food again, others who were told that there was nothing that could be done to stop their debilitating symptoms, and families of patients who died following bariatric procedures. Often, these terrible outcomes were caused by sub-standard negligent treatment by surgeons, doctors, and hospitalists.
Is bariatric surgery ever needed?
These severe outcomes made me question whether any circumstance objectively justify the need for bariatric surgery. I quenched my curiosity a few years ago while working with one of the bariatrics surgeons in the United States, whom I had retained testifying expert witness. I asked him whether he thought bariatric procedures were ever really necessary. In other words, does one ever cross a line when diet and exercise will not suffice?
This well-known expert shared his opinion that once people exceed a body mass index (BMI) of 30, which is the threshold for the classification of obesity, it is statistically unlikely that they will ever be able to lose and keep off enough weight to lead a healthy lifestyle.
One-third of Americans have a BMI of 30 or greater. Let that sink in.
In a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, a Cleveland Clinic bariatric surgeon recommended that any patient with a BMI of over 30 needs physician help to manage obesity. Diet, exercise, and physician assistance are all good ways to stay below a BMI of 30. The Cleveland Clinic surgeon added, “if your BMI is over 35, you need to start having discussions about effective treatment, which right now is bariatric surgery.”
For most bariatric surgeons, the goal is for their patients to be able to reach and maintain a BMI of less than 30 after weight loss surgery. A study of over 27,000 Michigan patients, between 2006 and 2015, examined BMI one year after weight loss surgery. The study concluded that patients were more likely to meet this major goal if they had a BMI of less than 40 at the time of surgery.
What you can do
Based on my litigation experience in bariatric surgery cases, I recommend undertaking every possible effort to get there weight under control before resorting to surgical options. Diet, exercise, and physician assistance are all good ways to stay below a BMI of 30.
If you find yourself in a position where these efforts do not work, do thorough research on weight loss procedures and surgeons before making a decision. After surgery, is important to keep a close eye on how you are feeling, particularly when it comes to pain, nausea, and vomiting. I recommend keeping a log or a journal with dates, times, and notations of how you’re feeling during the first two weeks after surgery. If you are trending feeling worse rather than better, do not wait for a two-week follow-up appointment before contacting your surgeon. Call, report your problems, and asked to be seen.
We are here to help
If you or someone you care for has been seriously injured as a result of poor bariatric weight-loss surgery medical care, then call 281-580-8800, for a free consultation with an experienced medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm, in Houston Texas.
Attorney Robert Painter is a trial lawyer who represents patients and their families in medical malpractice and wrongful death matters. He has been honored with numerous awards, including recognition by H Texas and Houstonia magazines as one of Houston’s top lawyers. Robert Painter currently serves on the editorial board of Texas Bar Journal and is a past editor-in-chief of The Houston Lawyer magazine.
Robert Painter is a medical malpractice lawyer at Painter Law Firm PLLC.
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On 4/1/2018, the new law will end the current practice where doctors can secretly enter a DNR order against patient and family wishes
This article was originally published in the September/October 2017 edition of "The Houston Lawyer" magazine
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