Bariatric Surgery: Life Changing Decision

Weight Loss Surgery – is it right for you?


Nancy Mooers Brown
Nancy Mooers Brown 1982

This is the first in a series that will help you deal with bariatric weight-loss surgery and travel.

Part 1: Bariatric surgery: life changing decision

Part 2: Bariatric lifestyle & nutrition

Part 3: Bariatric support groups & travel

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, I am a travel writer. You should not consider my bariatric journey as professional medical advice. Consult with your doctor to see if this life changing decision is right for you.

As we discussed my weight gain during my latest doctor appointment I watched nervously as my primary care physician scrawled “consider Bariatric Surgery” on the yellow pad of paper. This was my patient copy, another copy would be entered into my medical records. Yet another weight loss failure I thought to myself as she handed me, what I perceived to be, another nail in my plus-size coffin.

Like most bariatric surgery patients, I have struggled with my weight throughout my entire life. I had a successful dance with a weight loss program in high school, before going off to college (where no one knew me as heavy.) I gained a little weight in college, but not enough to warrant a comment from a fraternity boy to “watch my weight or you’ll end up like one of those fat housewives.”

Three months after meeting with my primary care physician, I got up the courage to make a consultation appointment with a Bariatric surgeon. After a quick step on the dreaded scale in the doctor’s office, my BMI (body mass index) was determined to meet the requirement for this type of weight loss surgery. My BMI, coupled with high blood pressure and high cholesterol, along with my “young” age, qualified me as an ideal candidate for weight loss surgery.

Weight Loss Surgery – is it right for you?

After asking the surgeon how long he had been performing weight loss surgery, I continued down my list of questions.

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Q: What is the percentage of complications with bariatric gastric sleeve procedures?
A: Any surgical procedure involves risk. The gastric sleeve procedure results in the best weight loss with the least amount of problems.

Q: Is my hospital (John Muir Medical Center, Concord) a Center of Excellence and certified through ASMBS (American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric surgery)?
A: As of this writing, John Muir Hospital is undergoing the certification process and fully expects to receive certification as the proper programs, support, training and equipment have been in place for years.

Q: What is the cost of the surgery and does my insurance (Blue Shield of California) cover this type of procedure?
A: “If it were my decision,” said Dr. Brian Chin. “I could perform the surgery next week. Depending on your insurance, you will need to meet at least once – sometimes six times- with a registered dietitian, as well as complete a psychological evaluation.” According to Dr. Chin, he views the insurance company requirements as a way to dissuade patients from jumping through the pre-screening hoops and ultimately, opting out of the surgery, resulting in saved money for the insurance company.


Nancy D. Brown
Nancy D. Brown 2013

I had called my insurance provider to confirm that my insurance plan did cover Bariatric Weight Loss Surgery. I was given the wrong information and told that my insurance plan required six months of nutrition counseling.

After my initial nutrition appointment, Blue Shield denied payment noting, “services provided for the diagnosis listed are specifically excluded from coverage under the subscriber’s plan.” I immediately filed a grievance inquiry and began to document every conversation with my insurance carrier. To make a long story short, I learned that my insurance DID NOT require six months of nutrition counseling. I could have had the surgery after one nutrition appointment and the required pre-operative bariatric surgery psychological evaluation.

Due to my insurance carrier’s mistake, I had to wait until February to apply for surgery, requiring me to start a new calendar year with a high deductible policy. Attempting to make lemonade out of lemons, I used these additional months of required nutrition counseling and optional support group meetings as preparation for a complete lifestyle change. After all, my type of surgery is not reversible. Check with your insurance provider to see if bariatric surgery is covered under your insurance plan and prepare to be your own advocate every step of the way on this weight loss journey.

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Q: What are the different types of bariatric surgery and which one is right for me?

A: According to my surgeon and the helpful book Weight Loss Surgery for Dummies, there are several types of weight-loss surgeries. The most commonly used surgeries are: gastric bypass surgery, lap band surgery and gastric sleeve procedure.

Q: What are the ramifications if I elect not to have bariatric surgery?

A: Continued weight gain, continued high blood pressure, continued high cholesterol, continued excess weight on joints, continued risk of type II diabetes (adult onset diabetes) as well as possible heart attack or stroke and possible shortened life span.

Q: What are the benefits of bariatric weight-loss surgery?
A: Significant weight loss, high probability of discontinuing prescription medication for weight-related issues; ward off diabetes, less risk of heart attack and stroke, increased longevity, more active lifestyle, healthier eating habits, self acceptance, smaller clothing size.

When I left the surgeon’s office, I was handed a nondescript black folder. Inside the black folder held the steps I would take, should I select bariatric surgery. The next day I scheduled a nutrition consultation. In no way was I convinced that I should have this drastic weight-loss procedure. Read my next post in this series to see what changed my mind.

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Bariatric lifestyle and nutrition

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