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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
Elizabeth October 16, 2008, 2:41 PM

I think that the mother is to blame for this. She had no right to have her child at 300 lbs at age 13. That is just obsered. AHHHHHHH i think that somone should sit her down and ask her what she did to feed him and not put him outside to get some fresh air and to get some excersie. This is just crazy

Troy October 16, 2008, 2:45 PM

Fantastic, saved the kid a life of being made fun of everyday every hour by school mates…he wouldn’t have lost the weight otherwise. Probably saved his mom’s life too and kept him from becoming a diabetic. The number of people that have been helped via diet long term as opposed to those that gave up, quit is very small…we are way too fat.

Kelly October 16, 2008, 2:48 PM

To all and especially Michelle, If you are a nurse I would have to ask my first question, why did you go to Mexico when they do it here in the United States. I had my lap band surgery four years ago at NYU Hospital in NYC by the most wonderful, caring, professional staff. I am thrilled, would do it monthly if I had to. Aside from losing over 100 lbs and feeling amazing, they specialize in children obesity. No reason to go out of the country, and it is approved and available here. My decision for the lap band is that it is reversable and before you condemn someone you should do your research. The article clearly states that he had the lap band surgery.

Anonymous October 16, 2008, 2:50 PM

I think lab band for minors should be an option with careful decision making and follow up with a pediatrician, One thing people may not understand is that it is a reversable surgery, although it is not suppose to be viewed that way., Diet change is the key so motivation is critical but the causes of overeating must be addressed also. As a stress eater since childhood I can sympathize and finally had the lap banding done. Lap banding is more about portion control than strict dieting. Yes you can blow it if you are a junk food or milk shake junky, but it still works if you plan well with your physician

P October 16, 2008, 2:50 PM

Lap Band is not Gastric Bypass. LB IS removable, GB is NOT. GB involves cutting, removing a chunk of stomach and intestines, altering your gastric system. LB involves a band that is placed around the upper part of your stomach to “pinch” off the opening to the stomach a bit so you cannot over eat or you will barf. LB is slower than GB to lose weight and you will get pretty close to goal weight, whereas GB you can get to goal and below. My sister had GB and wishes she had LB. Because she is now forever altered. Look up the differances before you condem people next time. You are only YOUR childrens mother, and that’s IT. Keep your nose on your own face next time.

tooyoung! October 16, 2008, 2:52 PM

I think taking her 13 year old son across the border was a huge mistake. Will that child still be happy with his MOTHERS decision in another 10 years? 15 years? 20 years? While being 300lbs at 13 isnt healthy, the child should have been allowed to make their own decision when they were old enough. These surgeries are not a quick fix, you will lose weight but that doesnt mean you will keep it off. Its a last resort - what will the child have to turn to if they fail at this?? After surgery you are required to take suppliments FOR LIFE - you are suppose to follow a healthy protein packed diet and avoid certain foods/medications etc… how can you put that type of responsbility on a child? You cannot tell me that the mother will be able to control what this child does as they get older.
My opinion is 13 is much to young for such a major surgery.

joe October 16, 2008, 2:53 PM

Just a thought….putdown the remote controls and turn off the video games/tvs and go OUTSIDE and PLAY. You can be on all the diets you want but unless you are exercising regularly it is a waste of time.

Tammy October 16, 2008, 2:55 PM

This woman put her life and the life of her son at risk for a procedure that only works for about 18 months to 2 yrs. I know several people who had gastric bypass and they ALL gained most of the weight back. Look at Carnie Wilson, Al Roker, and Ann Wilson (of the band Heart who had the Lap-Band surgery) - ALL of them have gained most of the weight back and are STILL struggling with obesity. Gastric bypass and the Lap-Band DON’T work any better than any diet does - they’re all only temporary. Sad, but true. This lady put her son at risk and in 5 years or less the kid will be back at or close to what he weighs now. Doctors are making a literal killing off of gastric bypass surgeries and a lot of people die or have serious complications from it. My cousin had it and she developed blood clots and now has to take blood thinner medicine for the rest of her life because of it. Another guy who had the surgery when another family member was in the ICU with him DIED from complications of the surgery - he was 30 years old! IMO, no one should ever have this surgery because it does NOT work!

Parrish October 16, 2008, 3:00 PM

Kelly most people seek medical procedures outside the US before they are cheaper and there are not as many strict policies in place as there are here in the US.

I have looked into lap band and gastric both here in the US and abroad. The drs here in the US have strict FDA procedures they must adhere to before surgery can be performed. Abroad there aren’t those rules, it’s all about the money.

I am 32 and about 375. I have always been heavy, even when I was a child. My mother cooked healthy and we were not allowed to sit in the house doing nothing. I have two children, 12 and 5 and both are active and keep me active. But I also suffer from arthritis and NO it’s not brought on by being weight.

My mother is a thin woman, as was my grandmother and my great-grandmother, all of which have or had arthritis. It is debilitating to the point that some days I cannot even braid my daughters hair. Not all heavy people eat unhealthy, are inactive or couch potatoes.

People need to understand there is a TOTAL difference between gastric bypass (which is what Carnie Wilson did) and lap band surgery.

Until you know what exactly the lifestyle of this woman and her child were, you should learn to stop judging someone.

Best of luck to them both. God Speed.

KB October 16, 2008, 3:04 PM

In my opinion (and no you don’t have to agree with me) gastric bypass and the lap band procedure should only be done when there is a medical condition prohibiting someone from exercising or for such conditions like hyperthyroidism, diabetes etc. and insurance should pay in those instances. However, if you made yourself obese because of your poor food and exercise choices, the surgery should either be off-limits to you or you would have to pay out-of-pocket without any help from your insurance. (It’s not their fault you made yourself that way; and as a taxpayer, I shouldn’t have to see premiums on health insurance go up because of other people’s poor decisions). People are always looking for the easy way out, but even with those procedures and diet pills… the weight will come back, and more than likely you will gain more than you lost. The only true way to lose weight and keep it off is exercise and eating right. (DUH) And as for these obese children we are hearing more and more about… I blame the parents 200%. Your child doesn’t buy the groceries or pay the tab when going out to eat… you do! Say no to little Timmy when he is throwing a tantrum in the supermarket…believe it or not, he won’t die if he doesn’t get that Snickers bar or ice cream cone. And how about instead of sitting your child in front of a television, gameboy or computer for hours on end, make them go outside and PLAY. What a novel concept. When I was growing up, my parents had to drag my brother and I in. Why is it now that kids see playing outside as a punishment? Kids don’t gain 300Ibs overnight, so how about waking up and doing something about their ballooning weight instead of waiting until they hit that 300Ib mark?

More people need to take responsibility for their actions and find GOOD, HEALTHY ways to combat their problems.

amber October 16, 2008, 3:05 PM

I think it is kind of extreme to put a 13 year old boy through this, especially since this type of weight-loss surgery requires a lot of responsibility, that most young teen boys don’t have. Either way i respect her choice as a mother as I am not.
Being obese takes toll on you as a human being. Example i’m 22 years old and weigh over 200lbs. I hate it. everything about it. I walk 3 miles a day, and eat healthy, but obviously not healthy enough. If i had the money, I would concider lap band surgery in the the blink of an eye. If that would aide me in my goal to a healthy weight, i would do it.

zoemom October 16, 2008, 3:07 PM

I have had the surgery within the past two years. I can tell you that I, as an over weight woman only ate 1,100 calories a day and excercised for an hour daily and still could not stop gaining weight. At 285lbs I gained weight going to weight watchers because the points were too much food for me. I ate things like salads and fruits and always stayed away from fried foods and sweets and I still was over weight. I have a condition know as polycycistic Ovary disease. This condition makes it almost impossible for people to loose weight. In my mothers side of the family I was the smalles person at 285lbs. The heaviest was an uncle at 598lbs. This condition makes your intesines absorb 90% of the fat that you intake instead of the normal 40%. This makes it almost impossible to lose wieght. I had the gastric bypass which bypasses the first five feet of small intestine and makes my body only absorb the 40% that is normal. Since I did not have bad eating habits before the surgery, I have had only small changes to my diet but I do know that this surgery is only a TOOL. People that have this surgery still need to do the work after it. It is never meant to be a cure all for obesity, it is supposed to give you the little extra push you need to do this yourself. I do take offense to people that do not understand what they are talking about concerning obesity. When you get to be overweight, it is hard enough to move let alone exercise. Many people that have never had to deal with being more than 20lbs over weight have no clue as to what people of 300lbs must face.

KC October 16, 2008, 3:08 PM

Fat or skinny, short or tall, people come in many shapes & sizes, no matter what size or shape, they are entitled to a life of dignity & acceptance. There are too many things in the various forms of media that love to make “fat” people a hideous anomoly & thanks to that, we now have more anorexics & bulemics, babies born to anorexic mothers (who knows how they’ll turn out, but mama was a “yummy mummy” who made Angelina Jolie look like a fat sow!”) & untold broken psyches because some (most) people feel that it is OK to criticize others for their weight or lack of it. What these idiots seem to forget is that ugly isn’t just an asthetic property, it’s a state of mind! For those who are losing (or gaining) weight to become more healthy, “hip-hip-hooray!” To those who feel they have a right to judge others: [holds up middle finger] sit & spin! I love my body & self, no matter what size I take (thanks to steroids to stay alive, it is often a large size too) & I couldn’t care less what the “workout loving nutritionists” say. Love & treat yourself kindly, stop vying for the acceptance of others (as they will always find fault) & live a happy & fulfilled life. Fat or skinny, short or tall, we are all people & deserve to be treated with dignity & respect.

jp October 16, 2008, 3:11 PM

it’s called exercise! Get up and do something!

Charlies Mom October 16, 2008, 3:11 PM

I have to say this because it is important to me to perhaps save another mother from the pain that I go through everyday of my life. In 2001, my 18 year old son died from Gastric Bypass Surgery. He had the surgery and never left the ICU. He died 9 days later. If I could go back in time, I would give anything to be able to try to change our family eating habits, exercise more and most of all to discourage my beloved son from this life TAKING surgery. I cannot even look at an overweight child without tears in my eyes thinking that they too could die from this surgery. There is too mujch hype in the media, like on the Oprah show about how wonderful the operation is and how it changes peoples lives. Well it certainly changed my life . The media very seldom show the downside of the operation.

Sherry October 16, 2008, 3:11 PM

She was just trying to do the best thing for her son; maybe it seems a little drastic to us, but she knows her son and what he is capable of - we don’t.
Maybe they already tried a whole array of things to get the weight under control, and nothing worked. Surgery seems a last resort, and yes it is life altering, and yes, he may gain the weight back - but also, this is obviously a devoted mother at her wits end, who was desperate to help herself and her son.
I wish them good luck with this, and I hope everything works out for them.

Marlene  October 16, 2008, 3:12 PM

As a physician who has been overweight most of my life, I can say that the normal weight person who gains and loses 10# has no idea what it is like to have to watch everything one eats, 24/7 and to exercise more than others. Medical research shows that over 90% of people who lose weight fail to maintain it. It also shows that cultural changes (driving to & from work, eating out) have a greater impact on some body types than others. This boy DID go to Wt. Watchers, as did I, 3 times! I’m not stupid, this is a daily struggle. It is also complicated by the tendency to gain weight with lack of sleep. Since my retirement, I am steadily losing weight, more from sleeping enough than anything else. I do know and practice good nutrition, and have since my 1st Weight Watchers classes. This boy was dangerously obese and lap band surgery IS reversible, so no permanent changes have been made in his body. If you haven’t had a history of obesity, you don’t know what you’re talking about. There are several hormones: ghrellin, leptin and cortisol, that contribute to being overweight. Google them.

Anonymous October 16, 2008, 3:15 PM

The biggest culpret of overwieght children is whole milk. Get rid of the milk, if your child is over the age of two and is not underweight,he doesnt need milk.

tigersoull3 October 16, 2008, 3:15 PM

It’s the parents fault for letting their child get that big. Children can’t drive through a fast food place so what food are YOU putting on their plate? I have a problem however with the comment “Dante did not seek consent from Joey’s pediatrician.” I don’t think his mom did the right thing but I do believe it was up to her to make that decision. this country wants to make everyone’s decision for them, because they know what’s best. Let parent’s decide. The doctor or the govt will not decide what’s best for my family.

Ed October 16, 2008, 3:23 PM

300lbs at age 13?!?!? Those parents ought to be arrested for child abuse!

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