HOUSTON – About 200,000 Americans undergo weight loss surgery every year, choosing methods like gastric bypass, banding or surgical balloons to shrink the stomach and decrease food intake.
Doctors have another option for patients when diet and exercise is not enough.
Eric Wilcoxon chose to undergo the Aspire Assist procedure.
“The most I ever saw on the scale was 409 pounds,” Wilcoxon said.
Standing 6 feet 4 inches tall, the 44-year-old leaves a big impression.
But these days, Wilcoxon is more than 135 pounds lighter after a lifetime struggle with diet and exercise that impacted his life and his health.
“I sat in my chair for probably the last two years before I had this done,” he said.
“When it’s your husband, you don’t want anything to happen to him. I’m getting emotional here. I don’t want him to die,” his wife, Christy Wilcoxon, said.
Dr. Vladimir Kushnir, a bariatric endoscopic surgeon, recommended Eric Wilcoxon undergo an endoscopic procedure to implant the Aspire Assist.
“The device is a modified feeding tube with a larger external portion and a smaller internal portion,” Kushnir explained.
Thirty minutes after a meal, Eric Wilcoxon connects the tube to a water canister and pumps out about one-third of his stomach.
“Similar to what happens with weight loss surgery, some of the food you eat doesn’t go where it naturally would, which helps you lose weight, because you don’t absorb as many of the calories,” Kushnir said.
“A lot of people do think it’s gross, but I’m really not overly concerned about what other people think,” Eric Wilcoxon said.
He watches what he eats in order for the Aspire to work. He drinks a lot of water and makes sure to chew his food well.
“People don’t comprehend how much you have to chew in order to do this," he said. "This tube in my belly is no bigger than an ink pen sitting on your desk.”
Eric Wilcoxon credits the tube, plus a healthy diet, with allowing him to do things he couldn’t before, like coach his son’s football team.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Aspire Assist last year. Some patients who have undergone previous bariatric surgery may be candidates for the AspireAssist, depending on their specific operation and their own medical factors.