Gastric bypass surgery is helping obese people slim and overcome life-threatening illnesses. Bernadette Wolhuter spoke to two surgeons who are changing their patients’ lives
For the past decade, specialist surgeons Dr Gert du Toit and Dr Ivor Funnell have been changing people’s lives.
The pair founded the Durban Bariatric Surgery – KwaZulu Natal’s only accredited centre – at St Augustine’s Hospital, in 2006.
The practice began in earnest and that year, Du Toit and Funnell performed five surgeries. But in recent years, the popularity of the procedure has grown exponentially and last year, they performed 88.
This week, they performed their 300th.
Initially, people did not realise the dramatic results that were achievable with bariatric surgery, Du Toit said, but as more people started having it, it became evident.
“Simply put, people will pay for something if it works,” Du Toit said, “And this works.”
In essence, bariatric surgery refers to weight loss or metabolic surgery and the most commonly performed type is gastric bypass surgery.
Post-surgery, they have to commit to serious lifestyle changes which include taking regular supplements and agreeing to regular follow-up appointments.
It is certainly not a quick fix and, with a price tag of about R130 000, not cheap either but, Du Toit says, the results speak for themselves.
Diabetes sufferers have the most to gain from the surgery.
“But there are so many other improvements we see in patients, post-surgery,” Du Toit goes on.
“They enjoy longer life expectancies and reduced illness profiles and become more productive in the workplace.”
More and more medical aids are starting to pay for the surgery and Du Toit says, from a financial perspective, it proves beneficial for them in the long term because a diabetic patient could cost his or her medical aid up to R5 000 a month.
“A year after surgery, none of those expense are there anymore,” Du Toit says.
But Du Toit is most excited about the impact the surgery has on his patients’ self esteems. “Many of them have been obese their whole lives and it has created a barrier for them, when it comes to dealing with others. People have a psychological bias towards obese people and they often suffer from an inferiority complex,” he says, “You really make a difference with this surgery, it changes people’s lives.”
West Riding’s Tracey-Lee Featherstone made the decision to undergo bariatric surgery in March 2014.
She had always struggled with her weight, she said, but it became more of an issue after she gave birth to her two sons.
“It affects every aspect of your life,” Featherstone says. “And I wanted to be ‘part of life’, I was tired of watching from the sidelines.”
Two years after her surgery, Featherstone has lost 67kg and weighs just 52kg now.
She no longer suffers from the obesity-related conditions she did before – acid reflux, heartburn, battling to breathe and water retention – and says her entire life has changed.
“It’s just amazing, my energy levels have improved, my cholesterol is fantastic and I can do things with my kids.”
Durban North attorney Charmaine Schwenn had struggled with her weight since childhood and opted for the surgery in 2006, when, aged 34, she weighed 137kg.
In the first three months after the surgery, Schwenn lost 35kg.
“It just melted off,” she said. “After that though, I had to work a lot harder.”
In total, Schwenn has now lost 70kg.
She says she no longer suffers with swollen joints or reflux and, in her personal life, she says she has since excelled at work and her relationships have improved.
“Without a doubt, it is the best thing that I ever could have done for myself,” Schwenn says of the surgery, “My only regret is that I didn’t do it ten years earlier.”