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Gastric Sleeve Horror Stories

Gastric Sleeve Horror Stories

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      Are you considering having gastric sleeve surgery? Have you heard horror stories of people who had the surgery and later regretted the decision?

      As with any surgical procedure, there are benefits and risks. Health benefits of bariatric surgery far outweigh risks of surgery; however, for a small number of patients, complications may happen.

      Some potential risks, or complications, are acute, meaning they occur quickly and are usually easily resolved.

      Others are chronic or long-term, while the majority of people who have gastric sleeve surgery experience little to no complications. There is a small population who have experienced significant complications or gone through their own gastric sleeve horror stories.

      Diagram of the intestines.
      Sleeve Gastrectomy, also known as Gastric Sleeve Surgery, is a bariatric procedure that involves surgically removing approximately ⅔ of the stomach.

      What Is Gastric Sleeve Surgery?


      Gastric sleeve surgery involves surgically removing approximately ⅔ of the stomach and creating a pouch or sleeve-shaped stomach with the portion that remains. In recent years, it has been proven to be a safe and effective procedure to help promote weight loss.

      Because of smaller stomach size, the amount of food that an individual can eat is reduced. This leads to feeling full more quickly, reduced caloric intake, and weight loss.

      Gastric Sleeve Surgery Horror Stories and Their Causes

      Some of the reasons for complications that lead to gastric sleeve horror stories include:

      Addiction Transfer

      Addiction transfer refers to the phenomenon that happens when an individual is no longer able to use food as a way to "self-medicate" for emotional issues.

      For bariatric patients, a smaller stomach size means an inability to binge-eat. Therefore, other types of addictions become appealing and often seem to take control of one's actions and thoughts. Alcohol abuse, drug abuse and sexual addiction are some of the most common addiction transfers that occur after bariatric surgery. The person's reduced stomach size does not limit these addictions.

      The word addiction.
      After gastric sleeve surgery, patients can turn to other life threatening choices such as drugs to help fill the void. 

      Shane's Addiction Transfer Gastric Sleeve Horror Story

      "I used to be the guy who ate all the time. I ate so much that I ballooned up to over 400 lbs.

      I was on my way to a heart attack fast when my doctor told me I needed to decide if I wanted to live to see my fortieth birthday. After I left his office, I was so mad and embarrassed. I remember going home and thinking I had to change.

      After I had the sleeve surgery, my dad died. I wanted to feel numb from the pain, and since food was no longer an option for me, I went against everything I ever believed. First, it was pills. When they didn't work, I kept trying new things. I ended up a bonafide meth addict. After months of being strung out, I finally got in rehab and started counseling so I could learn to cope in a healthy way and how to become more healthy.

      I didn't realize I was addicted to food until that addiction was transferred to meth. Both of them could have killed me, but didn't. If I were to give anyone advice about preparing for this surgery it would be to talk to your doctor and see a counselor for any addiction you have (including food) before you have the surgery. Addiction transfer is real, and it is frightening, but it doesn't have to kill you."

      Abdominal adhesions

      Organs and tissues of the abdomen are naturally slippery, which allows them to move and slide past each other.This is helpful during movements such as bending, twisting, and walking. After surgery, especially after open surgery, scarring can make these tissues "stick" to each other, and this causes a pulling sensation. The sensation may range from slightly annoying to painful with movement. The development of adhesion is not uncommon after any type of surgery. However, if the adhesions are severe, it can lead to long term complications and the need for another surgery. Abdominal adhesions are more common for open operations than  minimally invasive surgery.

      Maryann's Gastric Sleeve Surgery Horror Story

      "It's been almost 2 years since I had gastric sleeve surgery, and I started getting some pain in my stomach. The doctors couldn't seem to figure out why. I had a colonoscopy and many scans and ultrasounds. They said it was constipation, so they started watching my gallbladder. The truth is, they just couldn't figure out anything.

      I recently moved to another state and began having really severe pain in my stomach. I ended up in the ER. Less than 24 hours after I was discharged again with a diagnosis of constipation, I had to call 911. After another almost 48 grueling hours in the emergency room, they finally determined that I had scar tissue in my abdominal cavity that had wrapped around my colon. It was causing a bowel obstruction, which was cutting off the circulation in my colon.

      I had to have emergency surgery. While I am happy that I've lost weight, I am now at risk for developing adhesions and having another obstruction. This experience has been one of the most horrible of my life!"

      Malnutrition

      Very uncommon and unusual complication for sleeve, but it may happen if patient is not able to eat due to anatomical sleeve problem or anorexia for other reasons. To be successful following bariatric surgery, a diet high in proteins and essential vitamins and minerals is crucial. This can be difficult due to reduced stomach size, a new or worsened sensitivity to certain types of foods, or the inability to digest foods as effectively as needed.

      Picture of a stomach sunken in.
      Failure to consume enough of the proper nutrients or the inability to absorb them can lead to a complicated, possibly life-threatening condition, known as malnutrition.

      Debbie's Gastric Sleeve Horror Story

      "When I was 34, I had gastric sleeve surgery. In the beginning, the weight seemed to melt off of me. I was ecstatic.

      In my pre-surgery counseling, I was told that I would probably experience some hair loss and that I would need to take vitamins for the rest of my life (as well as other changes).

      Without going into my whole medical history, I will tell you, and I wish I'd never heard of gastric sleeve surgery! No, it's not because it can't work or that it is not an effective tool.

      It is. I was not emotionally prepared for the changes I should have made and was, therefore, non-compliant.

      Six years after surgery, I have lost over 200 lbs. Great right? No! I lost almost all of my hair. I began to experience malnutrition because I couldn't eat and hold anything down. My face is wrinkled. My skin sags. I have had 4 fractures, had to have my gallbladder out, and had another surgery to remove scar tissue.

      I look like a skeleton covered in a blanket of skin. I realize the benefits are more significant for some people than the potential complications. I just don't feel like this surgery is for everyone. I also now know that if you aren't mentally strong and willing to make some major changes in lifestyle, it can end up causing some terrible problems. I am a walking example of someone who should never have had this surgery!"

      Infection or Abscess

      Many surgeons opt to begin patients on antibiotic therapy before and immediately following surgery. This is to help reduce the risk of infection following the procedure. If an infection does occur, prompt medical treatment is crucial to help prevent the risk of further complications. Some of the most common types of infections following surgery include incision site infections and deep organ infections due to leak.

      When the infection goes untreated or if treatment is delayed, the risk of systemic infection (throughout the body) is increased. This can result in a dire medical emergency and could lead to permanent health issues or death.

      Kathy's Gastric Sleeve Surgery Horror Story

      "My whole life was a roller coaster of losing and gaining weight. I knew I had to do something so I started researching gastric sleeve surgery. I couldn't afford to take a long time off from work, and the sleeve surgery had the shortest recovery time, at least it was supposed to!

      After looking into the different surgeons and options locally, I decided it would be more cost-effective for me to opt for surgery in Mexico. I found a facility and surgeon that would do the procedure (all-inclusive) for $4000. I was blown away because every place I found in the States was at least $10,000.

      I went to Mexico and had the surgery and initially had no problems. About a week after I returned to the States from Mexico, I started feeling horrible stomach pain, had fever and chills, and vomiting uncontrollably. I was short of breath and was scared I was going to have a heart attack. So, to the ER I went.

      The ER doctor told me I leaked the staple line of my stomach that ended up causing an abscess in my abdomen. I was transferred to a different hospital and spent 2 weeks there. During the first week, I was in ICU and taking major antibiotics via IV. The second week, I still had vomiting and diarrhea, still had a fever, and was wishing I had never heard of the gastric sleeve surgery!

      It took months after my discharge for me to feel stable again. So far, I have lost 124 lbs. The weight loss is excellent, but I still get sick when I eat some foods.

      Every time I have a stomach ache, I worry that I may end up back in ICU. I understand that all surgeries have some risks, but if you are considering the gastric sleeve, make sure you get a doctor who can follow your care carefully."

      Helen's Gastric Sleeve Horror Story

      "At my heaviest, I weighed 347 lbs.  I am 5'6". I was so overweight that I could barely walk without feeling like I was going to suffocate. I finally got the courage to talk to my doctor about having gastric sleeve surgery and got scheduled. Did I lose weight? Yeah.

      About 120 lbs! I'm going to be honest, though. I wish I had been prepared for how much of a struggle it was after surgery. With the significant weight loss came major saggy skin. I felt like a 90 lb weakling carrying another 90 lbs of skin. I kept rashes under my breasts and the folds of abdominal skin. My legs were raw. Not because I was fat, but because I couldn't keep the skin from rubbing. I had multiple yeast infections in the skin folds because I would sweat. I smelled horrible all the time because of the yeast infections! My skin broke down and bled. It was a nightmare!

      I had to buy tight bodysuits, so I could tuck all of my loose skin in them so that I could get dressed and not look ridiculous. I wouldn't even let my husband see me undressed. One thing I would suggest to anyone having this surgery is to ask several questions. This is not a quick fix. You can't lose weight and eat and live in any old way. It's a lifelong commitment."

      Mexico Gastric Sleeve Horror Story

      Because the same procedures can be done for a fraction of the cost in other countries, many people are opting to leave the States for some elective procedures, such as the gastric sleeve. Although there are risks for any surgery, no matter where the procedure takes place, let's take a few minutes to explore some stories about Mexico Gastric Sleeve Surgery.

      Danielle's Mexico Gastric Sleeve Horror Story

      "'Save money and get skinny, they said. "Weight loss surgery in Mexico is awesome." I fell for it, hook, line, and sinker. I felt like a cow sent to the slaughterhouse because that's what happened to me. They butchered me inside and outside!

      I woke up from surgery, and I was feeling the most pain I'd ever felt in my life. I could ring blood out of the gown I was wearing. All I could think is I was going to die, and I'd never see my husband or son again. I made the trip home but was sick for the duration of it. I could barely walk off the plane. I couldn't eat and could barely talk.

      I thought I was going to die. My mom took me to the emergency room straight from the airport. My spleen had been cut in two places. The surgeon who consulted said my stomach looked like it had been put through a meat grinder and stuffed back into my abdomen.

      I was 30 years old and weighed 275lbs when I had surgery. Now I'm 35 and weigh 98 lbs and keep losing. I feel like I'm 80 years old. My hair has fallen out almost completely. I look old and ragged. My bones are brittle. My skin is wrinkled and dry. Some days I wonder if I will live to be 40."

      Monica's Mexico Gastric Sleeve Horror Story

      "I initially weighed 250 pounds. Since going to Mexico and having the sleeve, I've lost 131 pounds so far, and I'm still losing. I mean, how much weight can a person lose before their heart just stops?

      Every time I eat, I feel like my stomach is going to explode from the inside. It hurts so bad. Some days I just don't eat because the pain is excruciating. I was discharged in terrible pain and bleeding from my incision, but they said it would stop. The doctor that performed my surgery said that I was cleared after the procedure, so there was no need to return there.

      So far, my primary doctor has referred me to seven different specialists who deal with bariatric patients. None of them will even see me for a consultation, and I genuinely believe it's because I had surgery in Mexico. I am talking with another bariatric provider who is considering taking me on. It's still a long wait, though, because I have to go through all kinds of psych evaluations and counseling before I can have any type of revision. That's only if he thinks I'm the right candidate for it.

      I would tell anybody considering sleeve surgery to research as much as you can and do not ever go to a foreign country to have surgery and then expect to get decent follow-up care in the States. I understand. It's a liability for some doctors, and they just don't want to take the risk. Meanwhile, I am here wasting away and wondering if I will ever be well again."

      Conclusion

      All surgeries come with possible risks. Most are very successful, with little to no complications. Others end with the patient experiencing extreme complications and having their own horror story. It's always important, no matter what type of surgery you are considering, to research the procedure and find a reputable doctor who will be able to follow your recovery and offer additional medical care in the event the unexpected happens.

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        Darby Faubion, RN, BSN, MBA

        Author

        Darby is a nurse and Allied Health educator with over twenty-five years experience. Most of all, she loves empowering patients with the knowledge they need to live full, healthy lives.

        Gintas Antanavicius, MD, FACS, FASMBS

        Medical Reviewer

        Dr. G is a co-founder of BariBuilder. A US-based expert surgeon with over 10 years of bariatric experience, he regularly publishes research in medical journals like SOARD, Obesity Surgery, etc.