Weight loss surgery on the rise as obesity contributes to coronavirus complications


HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — We’ve seen a lot of new trends with coronavirus. Now, 8News has learned there’s an increase in patients signing up for weight loss surgery.

Doctors say obesity can be a strong predictor of a poor outcome with COVID-19 and that is behind a boom in bariatric surgery.

“It’s definitely weighed heavy when it came to this year,” said Toosdhi Sanders of Henrico, who had gastric bypass surgery in June.

“I’ve been walking, walking walking,” Sanders said. Since shrinking her stomach, Sanders has a lot more pep in her step. She’s dropped 50 pounds in about three months.

“I am feeling amazing,” she said. She told 8News the surgery wasn’t painful at all and she only spent a night in the hospital.

Sanders once weighed 282 pounds. She wasn’t feeling so great then.

“I probably was taking seven or eight pills a day from cholesterol to high blood pressure and diabetes,” she said. She was 45-years-old at the time. “That’s a lot of medication for someone my age to be taking,” Sanders added.

Sanders was aware that obesity and other underlying conditions like diabetes could increase the risk of severe illness with COVID-19. She’s not the only person who has said that influenced their decision as they considered surgery.

Doctor Matthew Brengman, Sanders surgeon and the Director of Bariatric Surgery at Parham Doctor’s Hospital has seen a surge in patients seeking weight loss surgery.

“We have seen an increase in the number of people both seeking to start the process and then people in the process motivated to move forward,” Dr. Brengman said.

Around the nation, United Healthcare and Cigna report an increased demand of 40% compared to 20% last year.

“It was recognized very early on that obesity really predicts a poorer outcome if the patient does contract the virus,” Brengman said. “Those patients are more likely to be admitted to the hospital, they are more likely to require ventilation and about 50 percent more likely to actually die from the disease.”

For Sanders, the weight loss surgery was one of the best decisions she ever made after everything else didn’t work.

“A lot of people may think I took the easy way out but let me inform you it’s not easy,” she said. “You still have to work. I still have to watch what I eat. I still have to lift weights. I still have to do cardio.”

Tooshdi Sanders shows weight loss from her gastric bypass surgery. (Photo contributed by Tooshdi Sanders)

Today, Sanders’ eight pills a day are down to three. One of the three is an iron pill, saying that the surgery did leave her anemic. She is, however, hoping to get off her blood pressure medication soon.

The surgery is done laparoscopically with small incisions and video cameras. Sometimes a portion of the stomach is removed. Dr. Brengman said most patients go home the next day.

A good candidate for bariatric surgery is someone 75 to 100 pounds overweight and has weight-related conditions like heart disease, sleep apnea and diabetes. Dr. Brengman says improvement rates with diabetes after the surgery is over 90 percent.


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