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Weight loss surgery now available for overweight teens

HOUSTON – Weight loss surgery has helped American men and women fight morbid obesity for years, butbariatric operations have not been available to obese teens, until now.

That meant teenagers waging the same fight against life-threatening obesity were left without a powerful option. Now, doctors are calling it a game changer for overweight kids.

Her weight has been a nightmare ever since Micaela Chapa can remember.

“I would wear dark, baggy clothes because I just didn’t like how I felt, and I tried everything to lose weight my entire life. I was in weight watchers when I was 9 years old,” Chapa shared.

Co-captain of her water polo team, Chapa fought off oncoming pounds with any and every diet to no avail.

By 17, she weighed 350, was pre-diabetic and suffered sleep apnea and high blood pressure. Desperate, she asked her doctor about weight loss surgery.

“She was one of those patients that was super motivated from the get-go, and that shows you that once you get to a certain level, no matter how motivated you are, all other ways of losing weight are going to be inefficient,” Dr. Matias Bruzoni said.

Adults usually undergo full gastric bypass surgery, but teens getting weight loss surgery most often will turn to less invasive laparoscopic sleeve surgery called gastrectomy, where up to 75 percent of a patient’s stomach is removed.

“These patients actually don’t have much of an appetite after surgery and that helps with this whole recovery,” Bruzoni said.

Chapa has lost 165 pounds and has kept it off since her surgery, four years ago, by following a strict diet and eating small meals every four hours.

“I was no longer shrinking down, hiding myself. I was able to be this effervescent, boisterous person I’ve always wanted to be,” Chapa said.

To be eligible, teens have to have a body mass index, or BMI, of 35 or higher, have diabetes, high blood pressure and sleep apnea. Those over 40 BMI may qualify without the additional conditions. But because this surgery requires lifestyle changes too, not every obese teen qualifies.