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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
tootsie October 16, 2008, 3:25 PM

OMG, this woman is lazy and a danger to her child. Since she is overweight you would think that she would be aware of things and do more for her child then the surgery. She had best hope that there are not complications from the surgery.
I am also fighting overweight and as I look back to my childhood, I was praised for eating all on my plate and of what was left after a meal so the family did not have to eat leftovers. I have paid the price for that, am now close to 70 and it is a constant battle. I was smart enough to watch out for my kids until they were old enough to understand the why behind my being so controlling on their eating. They are all healthy and their weight is also in the healthy range for their ages and height.

We have become a country that wants to give a pill or surgery to solve our problems. Stupid stupid stupid.

Sara t October 16, 2008, 3:29 PM

I think that in Extreme Cases this should be a last Resort if it means the person will lose their life if it isn’t done than by all means go for it! i know a few people who have had it done and that was only because it was the only way to save their lives. I also know of someone who is 39 and is over weight but not going to die from being overweight that has just been approved for the procedure which I think is BS, she’s just lazy and wants the easy way out!

If you life Depends on it then by all means go for it!!

Bill October 16, 2008, 3:40 PM

I am surprised that no one has touched on the fact that any procedure of the sort is SERIOUSLY not intended for children. The kid is in the prime of development and considering she hid it from her son’s pediatrician, i don’t see how she is going to learn how to care for him and ensure he is properly supplemented. honestly… i am almost completely positive he is going to either have a severe health issue in the future from it… or just die.

Granny October 16, 2008, 3:41 PM

I do wonder if this woman ever had her son and herself eval. to see if there was a problem other then elbow bending disease (eating too much of the wrong thing). Did she see this as an easy way out without the work and determination that comes with being in control of ones life? Where was the rest of the family? Another thing that has crossed my mind…if they are a sucess in getting the weight off, will there be money for the plastic surgery needed to remove the excess flesh that will be hanging around on their bodies. Skin does not snap back like a rubber band. I was given an offer and ok for the surgery but they could not tell me that I could have the followup to remove the excess me that would be hanging around. I am take it off a pound at a time and it is staying off at this point.

Barb October 16, 2008, 3:41 PM

THEY DIN”T HAVE A GASTRIC BYPASS, they got the lap band, it’s sort of like rubber band around the stomach that can be tightened or loosened, it is done through a small incision (laprascopy….not sure how it’s spelled). Not as complicated, or as dangerous, and easily reverseable. Not Permanent

guardianofthemoon October 16, 2008, 3:41 PM

There is an old saying ~ Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes…

That saying has stuck around for a reason. How can you know what you would do until your in that situation. It doesn’t say that the mom didn’t take her child to counciling, it doesn’t say that she didn’t try every other avenue, it simply says he had lap band surgery.

The facts are that Lap Band and Gastric Bypass are two VERY different procedures. The Lap Band is least envasive and less dangerous that Gastric Bypass.

But, who are we to judge. I at 35 am willing to have Lap Band surgery, would I let my 14 year old, I don’t know, if she was miserable, if the kids at school tortured her with filthy looks and cruel comments and she threatened to kill herself, than I don’t know what I would do.

How do we know that this kid hasn’t been put through all kinds of hell in his life and this was his Mom’s last straw. We will never know all the facts, but it is easy to judge others at a glance, when you don’t know all the facts.

Barb October 16, 2008, 3:41 PM

THEY DIN”T HAVE A GASTRIC BYPASS, they got the lap band, it’s sort of like rubber band around the stomach that can be tightened or loosened, it is done through a small incision (laprascopy….not sure how it’s spelled). Not as complicated, or as dangerous, and easily reverseable. Not Permanent

Barb October 16, 2008, 3:42 PM

THEY DIN”T HAVE A GASTRIC BYPASS, they got the lap band, it’s sort of like rubber band around the stomach that can be tightened or loosened, it is done through a small incision (laprascopy….not sure how it’s spelled). Not as complicated, or as dangerous, and easily reverseable. Not Permanent

Ree823 October 16, 2008, 3:44 PM

To Anonymous: I would have hoped to see a bit more understanding and compassion from you. Don’t write off gastric surgery and just presume that everyone who has the bypass gains back a lot of weight.

I have also been there, done that, and weighed over 430 pounds in 2001. My doctor told me I was a stroke about to happen at the age of 46. I had the bypass and to date have lost over 260 pounds and kept it off. I didn’t need to “get a life” - I had a life and saved it through this jump-start. I had to totally re-educate myself about food, healthy eating, exercise, etc.

No, I am still not thin. But I am far healthier than I once was, and because of that surgery, was able to regain control of my life for the better.

I laud your working with a special metabolic program and wish you much success with it.

But please understand that perhaps this woman was driven past the point of all hope. It happens. I’m sure you’ve felt frustrated; I had moments of desperate frustration. It happens. I worry that her child will not be able to adapt to the lifestyle change this surgery entails. But please, don’t condemn them.

sue October 16, 2008, 3:51 PM

The Lap-band is far less dangerous than having Gastric bypass. The band is also able to be removed if they develope complications in the future. I would be concered about their follow up care and the fills they need as time goes by. The Mother is obviously desperate for her son to have a life, and a normal one at that. I remember a few years ago there was talk on the shows about should Parents be arrested for child abuse if their children were over weight! Now they are being critisized because they do something about it. I am confused.

MB October 16, 2008, 3:58 PM

My question is this: why was the child so over weight? Was it a result of poor diet and lack of exercise or was/is there some underlying health issue? From the family photo it appears that they are all “larger then average” (whatever passes for average that is) suggesting that there might be a genetic pre-disposition for excess weight, in which case I can’t imagine that surgery would be a long term (ie. life long) solution if there aren’t also some major life modifications as well. Whatever the cause though I wish mother and son the best and do hope that any underlying causes are addressed so that the weight lost stays off.

Jeffrey October 16, 2008, 3:59 PM

I am a nurse and let me tell you that this procedure needs to be abolished. For every procedure that goes through without a hitch, doctors do not emphasize enough the complications that can and will arise at some point in the future. I have seen people die are having gastric bypass surgery done and many people with severe complications and weight GAIn after lap band surgery. I remember the thrilled 400lb women that quickly started to lose weight. She continued to lose weight, to the point where it was discovered her body was no longer metabolizing anything. She died of malnutrition at a weight of 57lbs (and let me tell you, it was not a pretty death). I have seen another that died due to complications from sepsis (infection) that had a lacerated lap band. What these people really need is a dietician, a trainer, SELF CONTROL and a PSYCHIATRIST (because 9 times out of 10 there is a psychiatrict problem that led you to eat the way you do). There is no magic cure to obesity. No magic diet. Its real simple. Eat less calories. Doctors are just too quick to perform these surgeries because it is easy money.

Big B October 16, 2008, 3:59 PM

Any kind of weight loss surgery is stupid!

I was pushing 365lbs, and within 1 year shed 135lbs….

Its not as hard as people think! And no i DID NOT diet. I still ate the things i wanted. just not 4 servings of them!

David October 16, 2008, 4:00 PM

The story says she didn’t seek consent of her doctor or the pediatrician before going. Why should she? It would be wise to seek their advice, but consent?! Should I get my gardener’s consent when I go to Tijuana to buy giant clay pots?

mel October 16, 2008, 4:01 PM

To take your child to another country for a surgery that is neither medically necessary nor prudent ought to considered a form of child abuse. Gastric surgery is not approved for 13 year olds and younger because the pediatric body is different than a later adolescent or adults. This sort of radical caloric and nutritional deprivation could cause a number of long-term problems for this boy, including stunting his growth permanently, weakening his bone density, and damaging his organs. This is why doctors make decisions about surgeries and advise parents. The average parent doesn’t have a complex understanding of child physiology.
To people who think that what she does with her child is her business and that she is doing the best she can, I would like to impress upon you to consider the permanent damage she will mostly do to her son’s body with this rash act. It is not in the best interest of her son, it is in her perceived best interest as a desperate mother. The state should intervene: this sort of reckless decision making against medical advice is child abuse….I mean hey, why not just take your kid to columbia to have his hand cut off if he won’t stop picking his nose…its a certain fix, and who cares about the long term consequences…..

Anonymous October 16, 2008, 4:02 PM

i think the mom absolutely did the right thing if there was no other choice and if they tried other options that didnt work… kids dont need to suffer and be made fun of during these critical years…

Anonymous October 16, 2008, 4:07 PM

she doesnt’ need consent from her doctor

lori October 16, 2008, 4:07 PM

i was skinny my whole life and i am ashamed to admit that i had similar thoughts about overweight people. eat less, exercise more, blah blah blah. two years ago i took an antidepressent that caused me to gain a pound or so a week for a year. nothing changed except that. not my exercise habits, my eating habits, nothing. i finally quit taking it, thinking i will lose the weight. i havent gained anymore but i havent lost any either. my doctor said, sometimes drugs will alter your metabolizm. nothing i do seems to help. i am embarrassed all of the time. i am ashamed that i ever judged people. staying skinny was easy for me. my feet are even fat.

Sam October 16, 2008, 4:08 PM

This was not right. In no way, shape or form. This CHILD was only 13 years old. The body is not even developed yet.
Children need exercise. They need to stay active. Too many parents allow their children to watch ridiculous amounts of television and play unecessary hours of video games all while downing a McDonald’s happy meal. My daughter and she is 8 years old and a very healthy 56 lbs. I refuse to allow my child to eat crap and be lazy. As a child, it is the time to be as active as possible, run around with friends, ride bikes, play tag. These are all things that have been lost with the age of technology. Everyone is all about the “easy way out” and it makes me sick.

jessi October 16, 2008, 4:09 PM

Gastric bypass is their only chance???? I cannot believe that are parents out there who would even consider this! What is wrong with getting your kids off their lazy behinds, and getting them outside? I see so many families that not only have fat parents, but they have fat children too, how disgusting! Parents who let their children get so fat that they consider surgery, ought to be charged with neglect! I have four kids, and neither me, my husband, nor our kids are overweight, and we eat anything we want, but we love fruits, veggies, and stay active. It is so easy to keep your weight in check, no excuse for so many obese people walking around!!

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