Nfld. & Labrador

Bariatric surgery called a life-saver for people with obesity

Jenn Deon, a woman who underwent bariatric surgery four years ago, says funding should be increased for the procedure in order to reduce health-care costs in the long term.

Jenn Deon says province can save health-care costs in long term by investing more now

This week marks the four-year anniversary of Jenn Deon's bariatric surgery. She says the procedure transformed her life, and believes increased funding for the procedure could save the health-care system money in the long-term. (Geoff Bartlett/CBC)

Not long ago, Jenn Deon was morbidly obese and deeply frustrated that her every attempt to shed weight was ending in failure.

That all changed four years ago this week when Deon underwent bariatric surgery to remove 85 per cent of her stomach.

She had what's called a "gastric sleeve" procedure, effectively preventing her from overeating.

"I can't actually sabotage myself by eating a large amount of food," she said during an interview with the St. John's Morning Show on Tuesday.

The surgery turned her life around.

The 43-year-old marketing and communications consultant can now cross her legs, ride roller-coasters, and has plenty of energy to exercise and play with her children.

I can't actually sabotage myself by eating a large amount of food.- Jenn Deon

She can avoid the embarrassment of asking for seatbelt extenders, and has discarded her blood pressure medication.

And she rarely has to visit a massage therapist or chiropractor anymore.

"It's a tool that allows you to keep the weight off and keep your health going," she said.

Frustrated by long wait list

Deon is now an outspoken champion of bariatric surgeries as an effective way of dealing with obesity, and saving the health-care system money in the long-term.

And when Michael Fleet of St. John's went public with his story last week, she understood his frustrations more than most.

"It is a frustrating wait when you're facing such large health issues," she said.

Fleet has a serious abdominal hernia, and must undergo bariatric surgery in order to lose enough weight to get the hernia removed.

But he faces a three-year wait for surgery.

There are more than 300 people ahead of Fleet on a wait list, and he believes many of those cases are not as urgent.

Calling for reduced wait times 

Deon has sympathy for Fleet's plight, but is not surprised.

With the exception of Ontario, where extra funding has reduced wait times, Deon says most provinces have a five- to seven-year wait list for bariatric surgery.

As such, she said it's very difficult to triage the wait list for bariatric surgery.

"While he has a very obvious problem, the person next to him could have high blood pressure and could have a heart attack the next day," she said.

Deon said "everybody" who has qualified for bariatric surgery faces serious health challenges related to obesity.

She said the best solution to Fleet's problem is increased funding in order to reduce the wait list.

She said the up-front investment would pay off because it would mean fewer health complications for those who have the surgery.

"The money we save in health care by offering the surgery is incredible," she said.

Less of a burden

Deon describes herself as a perfect example, saying she is "much less of a burden (on the health system) now."

Deon's story is similar to many who undergo bariatric surgery.

By her late 30s, she weighed 122 kilograms (270 pounds).

She tried dieting and exercise to shed the extra weight, but failed every time. 

She was eventually carrying so much weight that she was unable to exercise, and her blood pressure was dangerously high.

"I had a family and I ... just said, 'this is ridiculous," she said.

A visit to her doctor changed everything. She was told bariatic surgery was a "great idea."

Four years later, her quality of life is fantastic.

Not an easy way out

But bariatric surgery has its share of critics.

Some describe it as an "easy way out" for people with obesity, and believe a dramatic lifestyle change is the best answer.

But that is next to impossible, said Deon.

Through her research, she learned that only six per cent of obese people can return to a healthy weight and keep it off.

"Most people can't do it on their own," she said. "The stats just don't bear it out."

Deon created a private Facebook page for people who have undergone the surgery, and others who are waiting to have it done, though she stresses, "we are not a pre-surgery group."

With files from Anthony Germain


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