When you turn eighteen, there are a lot of things going through your mind. You are probably receiving college acceptance letters in the mail, celebrating that you are no longer in high school, finally being able to vote because you are old enough, and thinking you are pretty badass because you are technically an adult.
What is probably not going through your mind is that now you are finally of age to get the weight loss surgery you have been longing for.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the percentage of obese adolescents in the United States between the ages of twelve and nineteen increased from five percent in 1980 to eighteen percent in 2010.
“I wanted to feel glamorous,” says Paige Harris. “I am into body modifying and I wanted to lose weight, so I felt it was a good combination.” Harris was introduced to the idea of weight loss surgery at the age of eighteen when her doctor mentioned it to her. On top of wanting to fit the image of what glamorous was, Harris was also facing health issues, such as not breathing properly, sleep apnea, and back pains.
“I was getting so big,” says Harris. “I was having health issues and at my biggest I was three hundred twenty-three [pounds].
There are four options when it comes to having weight loss surgery. The first being Gastric Bypass, also known as Rouz-en-Y gastric bypass, which leaves you with only a small part of your stomach that does not hold a lot of food, causing you to eat less. The food bypasses the rest of your stomach, going straight from the pouch to your small intestine. Gastric Band is another option, which puts a small band around the top of your stomach. The band has a small balloon inside of it that controls how tight or loose it is and limits how much food can go into your stomach. Next, there is the Gastric Sleeve, which removes most of the stomach and leaves only a narrow section of the upper part of the stomach, called the gastric sleeve. This surgery can help curb the hunger hormone ghrelin, causing you to eat less. Last is the more complicated surgery out of the bunch – the Duodenal Switch. This removes most of your stomach and uses a gastric sleeve to bypass most of your small intestine, limiting how much food you can eat.
In 2009, about two-hundred twenty thousand people had weight-loss surgery, two percent of them being young adults under the age of twenty-one, according to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. Currently, the law requires young adults to be eighteen in order to get weight loss surgery unless greater health issues are present. Allergan, who is the maker of Lap-Band, is seeking permission from the Food and Drug Administration to market to patients as young as fourteen, according to the New York Times.
On October 8th, two years after Harris was introduced to the idea of weight loss surgery, she went in for her own gastric sleeve procedure.
“[Before the surgery] I had to reach a goal weight and get my health cleared,” says Harris. “The hardest part for me was passing the psychological exam.”
Before Harris was allowed to have her surgery, she needed to meet the two-hundred and ninety pound goal weight. In order to achieve this, Harris says that she did it in a fashion that her doctors’ probably would not approve of. Using a mixture of diet pills, exercise, and a strict food diet, Harris was able to get down to two-hundred and eighty-one pounds.
In 2007, Emrah Mevsimler made history by becoming the youngest person in United Kingdom to get the gastric band surgery at the age of thirteen. Mevsimler told the Daily Mail that he wished it [gastric band] was out of him, saying he had been through hell with it and that every doctor should refuse to do the surgery on anyone under the age of eighteen. He added that this was not the answer to curing an overweight child.
“I think it’s pretty extreme to change the anatomy of a child when you haven’t even tackled the other elements,” says Dr. Wendy M. Scinta, a family practitioner in Manlius,New York, who specializes in pediatric weight loss, told the New York Times.
Even though Harris has lost eleven pounds since her surgery in October, she has also had complications. Harris says that she usually gets sick after eating and going to the bathroom is a challenge. On top of that, Harris suffered a bruised muscle under one of her incisions, keeping her in constant pain.
Complications from weight loss surgery can include bleeding, infection, and blood clots but these are only short-term. Long-term issues are the main problem, including something called “dumping syndrome” which causes food to move to quickly through the small intestine causing people to feel nauseous, weakness, faintness, and have diarrhea after eating. On top of that, since recipients of weight loss surgery eat such little amounts of food, they need to stay on a strict vitamin ritual to insure they will not be malnourished.
One famous incident of weight loss surgery complications gone wrong came when Al Roker, who had gastic bypass surgery, soiled himself during a White House visit in 2002. Roker explained that he thought he was safe after having the surgery, but he ate something he was not suppose to and, while walking alone, he decided to pass some gas when something more came out. He had to ditch his underwear and go commando during his White House visit, acknowledging that he did not massively soil himself, but enough to where he knew. This incident is known in the medical world as “dumping syndrome,” which is common after weight loss surgery.
Harris explained that part of the reason she decided to get the surgery was because of pressure from her mother. Emotionally, Harris is also having issues. Since high school she has been battling bipolar disorder. Between having the effects her surgery has over what she can eat and her emotional state, Harris is not sure what to do since she cannot emotional eat like she is used to.
“She had the surgery and wanted me to have the fun she was having being thin,” says Harris. “I can’t eat my feelings without getting sick, so now I am trying to find other outlets.”
Harris says that she got the sleeve because of the better absorption of medicine it allowed. At the last moment, Harris found evidence saying that had been refuted and both weight loss surgeries allowed the same amount of absorption of medication.
“Had I known sooner, I would have got the gastric bypass,” Harri says. “You supposedly lose more weight because along with the amount of food you can eat being restricted, the amount of calories you absore is also restricted.”
Harris explains that to this day, whenever she eats food, it feels like she is eating rocks. Her stomach always feels heavy and she is never completely happy with the food she eats. She also says that she thought she would have lost more weight at this point in time but knows that sometimes it can take a while to happen.
Harris added that if she even thought about regretting her decision, she would drive herself crazy. Although her decision was a tough one to make, Harris has lost weight even with the bumpy road she is facing.