When to consider weight loss surgery

How going under the knife helped one woman overcome

HOUSTON – A lot of people have this idea that weight loss surgery has to be a final option to lose weight but when Madison Wilner wanted it and her insurance told her she needed to gain another 50 pounds before they'd cover it, she finally said enough.

She paid out of pocket, $12,500 for the procedure, and doctors say the improvement in her health is the reason why more people should consider these kinds of operations.

Wilner was 283 pounds on the day of surgery.

“I was like insanely shocked,” she said.

The number on the scale was a surprise but how she got there was not.

“Once the abuse happened, that's when I started using food as a comfort,” Wilner said.

She said she was sexually assaulted at 12 and started eating to hide her emotions but gaining weight brought on chronic illness:  polycystic ovarian syndrome, diabetes, high blood pressure.

“There were times my mother was taking me to the hospital because I was having stroke-like symptoms,” Wilner said she was so sick in her early twenties she wanted weight loss surgery to help her feel better.

Dr. Carlos Galvani, Chief of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine and surgeon at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center, did not treat Wilner but explains that for patients like her, food is not the only factor causing weight gain.

“Of course there are psychological factors,” Dr. Galvani said. “How much we exercise or the kind of stress that we have in our life with a kind of medication we take and the rest of the things we can’t manage like genetics. You're just born one way and you're going to develop in a certain way. So, if you put all of those things together in the same bag and mix them up then of course you get a person that needs a different kind of treatment for their disease, which is in this case is obesity. So, psychological factors, sexual abuse, or any of those things they definitely play a big role.”

Galvani said the advantage of surgery is to change the path that obese patients are on.

“We can treat sleep apnea, reflux disease, there are a number of diseases that we can decrease the incidence of… cancer! A lot of people don't know that obesity is linked to 13 different types of cancer. So, by treating obesity, then of course we're decreasing the incidence of many of these conditions,” Dr. Galvani said.

Madison had her operation four years ago and is now much healthier, but for her, the hardships didn't end. Since she’s unable to consume big meals, she still battles with emotions because now when she's craving comfort, she cannot use food.

“For me, I always hid myself from men and when they started giving me attention, I wanted to eat because I knew if I was bigger I wouldn't be that attractive. Well, I couldn't. So, the emotional part of it was horrible,” she said.

Describing the results as horrible may have people wonder if she is glad she did it, and she does not hesitate to say she would do it again in a heartbeat. Her overall health is better and she said she’s happier than she’s ever been.

“I wouldn’t change it for the world,” Wilner said.

Dr. Galvani  said less than 1% of the population that qualify for weight loss surgery actually get it. He said people with a BMI above 35 are eligible under most insurance providers.