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The Biggest Winners

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Bariatric surgery patients get a full range of support at Omega Hospital

The fight against obesity in America has found a high-profile champion in first lady Michelle Obama, who is focusing on childhood obesity in particular. Many other health-care institutions and organizations around the country have been getting involved in the cause, as well. Locally, Omega Hospital is ramping up new anti-obesity efforts in conjunction with its bariatric surgery program.

“Obesity is always on the rise, especially in our area,” says Debbie Schenck, an administrator at Omega Hospital in Metairie. “Omega is doing the best to alleviate that problem. We’re devoting an area of the hospital to obesity treatment and starting up seminars to run throughout the year with dietitians, counselors and exercise trainers. Bariatric surgery can be an effective solution, and we offer it to those who need it, but ultimately to fight obesity, lifestyle changes are what’s needed.”

In a nutshell, bariatric surgery encompasses procedures that alter the digestive system to help limit the intake of food, and at Omega Hospital the principle bariatric surgeon and resident expert on medical issues related to obesity is Dr. David Treen. He also operates the Surgical Clinic of Louisiana in Marrero with his partner Dr. Todd Belott.

“The motto of our practice is ‘Compassion and Respect,’” says Treen. “Patients who have had lifelong obesity face completely different social stigmas and issues than non-obese people do. We’re sensitive to those issues. Many of our employees have been bariatric surgery patients, so they understand what our patients are going through.”

The unique nature of Omega Hospital fits well into the needs of bariatric patients. The facility is quite small, with fewer than 20 beds as opposed to the 100 to 200 beds that one might find in a typical medical center. Each nurse on duty attends to only two patients. In addition, Omega bills itself as a luxury hospital. Like a high-end hotel, the patient rooms, which are private, are stocked with plush robes, flat-screen TVs, a mini-bar and a microwave. The couches in the common areas are stylish, and the general atmosphere is inviting.
Along with the upscale facilities, another part of the concept is to try not to be all things to all people. Instead, the focus is on a select number of specialty procedures, and bariatric surgery is one of them.

“Since it is smaller and there’s more one-on-one attention for the patient, my patients at Omega who feel nervous about going in for surgery feel comfortable in the environment,” Treen says. “In health care in general, the trend has been toward patients looking for hospitals that specialize in specific procedures, like bariatrics, breast cancer treatment or orthopedics.”

Treen is experienced in the various types of bariatric surgical procedures like gastric bypass and Lap-Band surgeries. Lately, more and more patients have been signing up for sleeve gastrectomies. A sleeve gastrectomy is a procedure that has been around for about seven years in specialized applications, but only in the last couple of years has a broader range of bariatric patients been able to avail themselves of it.

The procedure requires six small incisions, and the doctor actually removes 80 to 85 percent of the stomach, but unlike in gastric bypass, the intestines are left intact. Along with the portion of the stomach removed, cells that produce an appetite-stimulant hormone called ghrelin are taken out. By vastly decreasing ghrelin production, patients find that they are rarely ever hungry anymore.

According to Treen, sleeve gastrectomies have the lowest complication rate of bariatric surgeries. The recovery time is only a week to two weeks, and the patient experiences a more rapid rate and greater amount of weight loss compared with other options.

“After a sleeve gastrectomy, patients aren’t repulsed by food, but they certainly no longer have the same drive to eat,” says Treen. “Some patients even need to program reminders to eat into their smart phones. Overall, they can develop a better relationship with food. Although they’re eating less food at a meal, they enjoy it more.”

Treen adds that even if a bariatric surgery patient recovers after two weeks, regardless of the procedure, treatment still continues long afterward. Medically, the patients have to be monitored regarding the resolution of obesity-related conditions like hypertension, sleep apnea and diabetes. Psychologically, patients have to adjust to the radical change in their lives that sudden weight-loss brings. Their attitude toward themselves will shift as will others’ treatment toward them. They now have a greater ability to function with normal physical activity and social interactions.

“Sometimes patients might not be prepared for the changes,” he says. “We operate support groups to help them cope. Bariatric surgery needs to be a full package. Patients shouldn’t just have surgery and be sent off to manage the weight-loss journey on their own. They need others’ support for this journey.”