July 11, 1997

Gastric bypass procedure gives patient new lease on life

Gastric bypass procedure gives patient new lease on life

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Patient Donnie Taylor (left) chats with Dr. J. Kelly Wright prior to his recent gastric bypass procedure. Photo by Donna Marie Jones.

With his massive body reclining on an extra-wide bed in the Sub-Acute Care unit in Medical Center North, patient Donnie Taylor wears an oxygen mask to help his lungs cope with the task of breathing for his 609 pound body ‹ a body that has held him prisoner in his own home for the last three years.

On April 1, Taylor was rushed from his home in McMinville to Vanderbilt University Medical Center suffering from pulmonary arrest. His body had reached the end of its ability to cope with the added weight. Due in part to a heart attack he suffered three-and-a-half years ago, and the subsequent inactivity coupled with a high-calorie diet, his weight was in excess of 700 pounds.

Taylor, age 53, has struggled with a weight problem for most of his adult life. He was able to work as a truck driver for many years even when his weight was hovering in the 450 to 500 pound range on his 5¹ 11² frame. But four years ago he began experiencing problems with swelling in his legs, leaving him unable to drive and earn a living.

Being at home and less active, he began to put on more weight. After a few months of inactivity, Taylor says he suffered a mild heart attack and was hospitalized for about two weeks. After returning home from the hospital, complete inactivity set in and his weight began to escalate rapidly.

³In eight years I went up over 20 sizes in my clothes, I just shot up,² Taylor said. ³My waist size went from a 52 to a 78.²

Taylor recently underwent bariatric surgery at VUMC. The procedure, specifically a gastric bypass, was performed by Dr. J. Kelly Wright, assistant professor of Surgery, and involved stapling Taylor¹s stomach to reduce its size by as much as 90 percent.

³This procedure is for those morbidly obese patients who have made serious efforts at all other forms of weight management and have failed at all of these other attempts,² Wright said.

Wright said that bariatric surgery isn¹t for every person with a weight problem. A patient¹s attempts at weight management must have included regular diet, exercise programs, and possibly medication. If these efforts have failed, and the patient is still morbidly obese, they can then be considered a candidate for the procedure.

One of the prerequisites for planning elective weight-loss surgery is that complications be minimized whenever possible. When he was admitted, Taylor had been completely unable to walk for several months. The first priority was managing Taylor¹s other obesity-related health problems, and getting him ambulatory again.

Thanks to the efforts of Dr. James P. Wilson, associate professor of Medicine, Dr. Deborah W. Robin, assistant professor of Medicine, physical therapist Trina Resser, rehab tech Donnie Green, and a team of other physicians, nurses, dietitians, physical therapists, and occupational therapists, Taylor lost over 100 pounds in a little more than two months and was able to take his first steps in more than a year prior to his procedure.

The surgery is offering Taylor hope for the future. ³When they got me here I was weighing 721 pounds,² he said. ³I was surprised when they weighed me ‹ I thought I was probably around 600.²

Taylor, who says he has tried every kind of diet and diet drug ³you ever heard of², had heard of bariatric surgery several years ago. ³At the time I checked into it there were only a couple of places in the country that were doing the procedure. One was in Utah and it was too expensive,² he said.

At this point Taylor had little choice about undergoing the procedure and is grateful that he had it done here at Vanderbilt.

³It¹s a life and death thing. I almost died before they got me here. I stopped breathing and my heart stopped beating and they had to restart it,² he said. ³I think it was due to congestive heart failure related to my weight.²

Taylor remembers being thin until he was eight or nine, but his weight slowly began to creep up during his teen years. ³My weight gain was slow as long as I was working hard and had some way to help keep the weight off. Gaining all this weight was a slow process until my heart attack, after that I just ballooned,² he said.

In addition to all of the subsequent health problems brought on by his weight, Taylor battled depression every day.

³It had been about three years since I had even been outside the house. The doctor even had to come to the house to see me. It was like being in jail. You just feel like you¹ve been sentenced to a lifetime of just sitting there looking out the window, ³ he said. ³I got really depressed.²

Taylor, a gun enthusiast, had his gun collection and his two dogs, a chow and a dachshund to help him pass the days. His wife Carolyn also helped to keep him occupied and cooked for him when she didn¹t have to work.

³This surgery is giving me hope for a new life, the first hope I¹ve had for a long time. I¹m very grateful.²