Texas Children's Hospital's bariatric program helps teen lose almost 100 pounds

Texas Children's Hospital in The Woodlands is helping adolescents lose weight. A local teen is thankful for it and says surgery has truly enhanced her life.

Cassidy, her parents, and doctors were concerned about her health problems. Her weight started adding up in junior high, and she started suffering from sleep apnea and pre-diabetes. But she was having an impossible time losing weight to try to reverse the serious health problems.

"I think each time I was working out or eating, getting off track, and wanting to stay healthy, it was hard and difficult at first. But once I went to the doctor, my mom talked to me more about it saying, hey, you could come here, get a consult, see how things go, see what the plan is to help you like you know get on track," says Cassidy.

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Cassidy found help at Texas Children's Hospital in The Woodlands and realized she wasn't alone in this journey.

"It is much more prevalent than you would figure. It's just rising every year. It's amazing the number of patients that we do refer to those each year," says Dr. Shawn Stafford.

He is a bariatric surgeon and the Director of the program at Texas Children's. He and his team recently completed the 100th successful weight-loss surgery.

There are strict rules in place about who qualifies for bariatric surgery.

"Medicaid sets the limit for BMI at 40. So, they want you to have a BMI of 40 or more that's different for some different insurance companies, but it's around that level," says Dr. Stafford.

BMI stands for body mass index. A BMI between 18 and 25 is ideal, over 25 is considered overweight, 30-39 indicates obesity, then a BMI of 40 suggests morbid obesity. That's when surgery is considered for teens.

First, they go through an intensive six-month program, working with a dietician to learn healthy eating skills and lifestyle changes.

"Primarily in teenagers, we do sleeve gastrectomy. There is a lot of research out now looking at the outcomes with Sleeve Gastrectomy versus gastric bypass. They're very equivalent. Although the complication rates a little higher with the gastric bypass. We like doing a less dramatic surgery, just involves taking off part of the stomach as opposed to rerouting the intestines. Has very good results, very little morbidity," states Dr. Stafford.

It wasn't an easy decision for Cassidy to undergo the procedure.

"At first, I was nervous like leading up to it. I was like excited. But once I went in, I was like, Oh, I'm freaking out a little bit, like this is the first major surgery in my life. So, it was nerve-wracking, but then I just calmed myself and realized, Hey, this is like a benefit for you, it’ll help your life," explains Cassidy. 

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Dr. Stafford says it's rewarding to watch kids get healthier after the surgery and even reverse their conditions.

"Sleep apnea, PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome, a hormonal disorder common among women of reproductive age), we have lots of kids with diabetes, high blood pressure. We actually have a number of kids we operate on who need transplants, whether it's kidneys, heart transplants, liver transplants, because of their obesity, and they can't even get on the transplant list until they lose weight because their BMI needs to be below 35. So we have a number of those kids we're dealing with as well," states Dr. Stafford.

Cassidy says the weight loss was slow at first, but incorporating exercise gave her the boost she needed. She has lost around 90 pounds! That has been helpful physically, as well as psychologically.

"Great! I have new clothes. I feel happier. Like exercising is not difficult for me. I get to do more and more and not get as tired easily, but it's a real change. Everyone else can see it, and it just makes me happy to feel healthier," says Cassidy.

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She's still adjusting to how she eats but says it's worth it.

"Even when eating, portions may be small, but they do get me fuller. And just, when I see myself in the mirror or even different sizes, I can see the change," says Cassidy.

Specialists at Texas Children's Hospital taught Cassidy a lot of lifestyle changes that she works hard at every day to keep the weight off. She's feeling better than ever now!

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