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Mom Takes Son to Mexico for Gastric Surgery

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75% of people in the US are overweight. 16% of them are children under the age of eleven. For many families struggling with overweight children, surgery is their only chance at change. But is taking them across the border worth the risk?

Being overweight was just something that 39-year-old Dante Fishell accepted as a norm -- she's been overweight her whole life and suffers from diabetes. She has tried every diet under the sun and nothing ever worked. But when she watched her son Joey balloon to 300 lbs at the young age of 13, she realized that surgery might be their only hope at saving his life. Dante found a surgeon in Tijuana, Mexico that would perform Gastric Lap Banding on both her and her son -- despite the fact that the procedure is currently not FDA approved for minors. Dante did not seek consent from Joey's pediatrician or from her own physician, she just went to Mexico.

Recently, UCSD Medical Center, along with ten other centers around the US, ran a trial to evaluate whether gastric banding is a safe and effective weight loss treatment in obese adolescents ages 14 - 17. Dr. Santiago Horgan, the Director of Minimally Invasive Surgery and Director for Center for the Treatment of Obesity at UCSD, who ran the trial and has performed more than 1,000 gastric banding procedures, told us in an interview that he does see patients in his office from complications who went to Tijuana. "It's very difficult to adopt a patient who we did not approve for surgery. It is a risk. In this case you need to see your physician and dietician, psychologist, etc., any time you need." Dr. Horgan also believes that a critical element to this operation is follow up. "The Follow up is the most important part of the surgery. If you go to Tijuana to have the procedure because it's cheaper, you will be limited to (access to) doctors with regards to follow up because you need to cross the border to see them."

We spoke to momlogic's pediatrician Dr. Cara Natterson, who believes that surgery should always be the last option and "should be coordinated with nutrition and exercise counseling."

But just how worthy is this surgery? Worthy enough to cross the border? You be the judge...


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191 comments so far | Post a comment now
Anonymous October 15, 2008, 6:31 PM

I have seen too many specials and read too many articles on having these types of things done in other countries. I think this mother needed to try something less drastic for her son. She needs to visit a dietician and maybe even have a physical trainer crfeate a work out plan for her AND her son to follow. Gastric bypass does work, but you can regain all of the weight you lose if you do not learn to eat better. I know this because my mom’s best friend had the procedure done and has gained back a good bit of weight. Another thing that there is alot of after care you have to do such as taking supplements and what not. At 13, he will have a lot of responsibility.

Anonymous October 15, 2008, 9:27 PM

I BLAME the parents 100%

No Way Jose October 15, 2008, 11:58 PM

I think it’s unfair for these parents to have chosen such a life altering surgery for their 13-year-old. This will affect his physical and mental health for the rest of his life.

I’m wondering if he was ever sent to nutrition classes or a psychologist. Seems like those should have been first steps once the parents realized they had were not in control of their son’s well-being.

Anonymous October 16, 2008, 10:35 AM

Speaking as a 400+lb mom myself with an 8 yr old daughter who weighs 100lbs, this is not okay. I know what it’s like to “try every diet under the sun” and fail over and over and over. To obese people DIET is a 4-letter word. A “diet” won’t change anything, you have to make a commitment to change your entire lifestyle and view towards food. 2 weeks ago I made that commitment by joining a wellness clinic which is about more than losing weight, it’s about being healthy. This clinic used my blood tests to find out how to work with my metabolism and after only 2 weeks I’m down 15lbs. As the mother, it is up to me to lead by example. Now I’m making healthier food choices for my whole family. Extreme surgery is not the answer, people can still get fat after gastric by-pass surgery. Liquid calories will put on the weight too. These people need to get a life.

heather October 16, 2008, 2:08 PM

I am also a mother of an overweight child, however we live a healthy lifestyle. Unlike the woman in this article, I am an underweight adult and struggle with maintaining my weight, while having to keep my child’s issue under control. We have discussed our eating habbits with experts and they have told me that my son eats healthier than most kids in this country. I have no idea what else I can do to help his situation.

judgee October 16, 2008, 2:10 PM

I don’t understand why people feel the need to judge others……

M October 16, 2008, 2:18 PM

Just wnated to say congrats! to the Anonymous who joined the wellness clinic. Keep up the good work!!

MontanaMom October 16, 2008, 2:19 PM

People should quit judging this mom! Overweight people just get smeared all over the place no matter what they do- I have been gawked at at the gym…at dancing lessons… have tried diets, etc. I am healthy tho- no heart disease or diabetes and low cholesterol. I would have lab band surgery in a heartbeat if I had the money and I would have done what this mom did. Weightism is hard to live with because people are so dang critical of heavy people without knowing their story. Stop it!

Nancy October 16, 2008, 2:20 PM

I think its fantastic and wonderful that the surgery worked for both of them with no complications so far. I pray for their continued success. It was definitely a risky way to deal with the problem, but it worked.

Anonymous…Don’t be stupid. They have a life. Hopefully they will focus on nutrition from now on. Do what you think is right for you and yours. I wish you success too.

No Way Jose…you don’t think that being a 300 pound child might have a mental and physical effect on the rest of his life? Think again.

Bob October 16, 2008, 2:20 PM

Shouldn’t the mother be arrested and charged with reckless endangerment of a minor? There are all too many people who die prematurely as a result of this surgery. And, knowing it’s against the law in the US, as is heroin, going to another country to get it? Sheesh, I’d hope she meant well, but this is rediculous.

j October 16, 2008, 2:20 PM

I think it’s helpful in some situations. Clearly this is an extreme case, the child is 300 lbs! Obviously it’s much easier to prevent obesity than to treat it, but many people are in denial clear up until the day the fire dept is cutting a wall out of their house to get them to the hospital. Pediatricians need to feel free to speak up as soon as a child is a bit overweight clinically. Nip it in the bud. Not that every parent will listen, but some will.

michelle October 16, 2008, 2:22 PM

EXERCIZE and what you put in your mouth aka ‘diet’(not dieting, people often use those words incorrectly)

tescali October 16, 2008, 2:24 PM

I have a 4 month old daughter who’s recently been diagnosed with hypothyroidism. Though medication will help her, I know her weight will continue to be a life long struggle she will have to deal with. I fear the type of ignorant scrutiny she will face. Not all people are overweight just from overeating and not exercising. I think we as an intelligent society should focus more on health and especially size tolerance rather than just preaching to people about losing weight. It send the wrong message, especially to young girls who have a hard time with self-acceptance anyhow.

Anonymous October 16, 2008, 2:24 PM

my friend has this done and she never changed her eating habits so she ballooned to even bigger than before surgery and now she has all the health risks also!

MJ October 16, 2008, 2:25 PM

My daughter had to undergo psychiatric evaluations for over a year before she was approved for bariatric surgery. She also had to submit written documentation of the diets and weight loss programs she had tried. Going to Mexico was a risky step for this mom and I can understand her frustration and concern for her child. But the risk of complications are high enough in the U.S. Not having access to proper after-care could be deadly.

Brad October 16, 2008, 2:28 PM

WOW!!! Jessica Simpson posing nude here:

Michelle October 16, 2008, 2:28 PM

To Whom It May Concern,
These two people did not have gastric bypass, they had the lap band surgery. I will tell you this, I am a nurse and I had the lap band done in Tijuana 2 years ago and I am fine. I have had no trouble at all and have lost 75lbs. Yes this is a drastic method, but it worked for me when nothing else did. I was treated like royalty during my stay and during my surgery there were 5 doctors in the OR room. I would not have been treated that well here in the states.I know because as I said, I am a nurse and I have seen how things are done on a daily basis. I highly recommend this procedure, but you have to be ready to make the committment to change your life. The reasons I chose the band instead of the bypass were several, but the most important one was that the band is reversible if anything goes wrong. With the bypass if there are complications there are no fast fixes. If you have the band done out of the country there are doctors who are willing to do your after care here in the states. There are many support groups that can put you in touch with doctors willing to provide your after care. I had to do a little searching but I found one in Dallas. He is great and has told me that my band was done perfectly.
This has changed my life for the better and I am glad I did it. I would do it over again without hesitation. I was healthy before the procedure, but I knew it would not stay that way with the excess weight. I feel better, look better, and inside I am different. I like me now and I look GOOD! So to all of you who are thinking about it…do some research on line, it helped me decide. And for you people who have never had a weight problem, please dont judge someone else. It is cruel and not necessary. Many overweight people are not pigs and lazy. Please stop thinking this way.

Kevin October 16, 2008, 2:29 PM

What a mother does with her own child is her business, she was only doing what she thought was right after all he was 13 and 300lbs. Risky yes, Stupid yes, her desision yes. We all do things that 100% of other Americans would not agree with, behind closed doors. After all, this is America and if there is a loop-whole there is a way…

Divadeebr October 16, 2008, 2:36 PM

I myself had gastric bypass surgery at the age of 26. At the time I weighed 295 pounds. After the surgery I lost 150 pounds. Five years have passed and today at 31 I am still down to 158 pounds. I never had any excess skin removal and wear a size 10. My entire family is obese, both sides. My daughter is 14 years old is 5’9-1/2” tall and weigh 285. I cried at her last check up. I cook healthy and her and I eat the same things. Do I think genetically we have the “fat” gene, maybe so. I have thought about my teen years and how I didnt feel pretty because of my weight. I always dressed nice and had a great personality just like my daughter, but I still had a feeling of shame. I never wore a bathing suit, I never was able to shop in regular stores. If this surgery was approved in the US for teenagers, I would do the same for my daughter. I had no complications from the surgery and do not regret the decision I made. I do not think going to Tijuana is the answer because follow up is so important. I know this is one of the reasons I turned out to be the “poster child for weight loss surgery” as my doctor still calls me to this day. It is easy to say what is acceptable and what is not, but still as a parent I feel she did what she thought was best for her and her child.

MercysMom October 16, 2008, 2:37 PM

I became overweight as a young girl (pre-teen) and it was nothing more than the diet I was being fed- back then being southern meant you tended to eat a not-so-balanced diet. As I’ve gotten older, it’s changed from diet to just not moving- this Mom should have been getting up off her tail and making changes in the home and in their activity level- unless this child had MAJOR health issues, his weight hitting 300lbs was just her stupidity! She should face mandatory dietary classes, have to be accountable as a responsible parent- and more. This kind of thing makes me sick because there was a huge problem WAY before he hit 300!! Stupid people breed stupid kids- and he deserves better.

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