“Bariatric surgery changed my life”
Posted on 5 February 2021
A procedure gives people who are struggling with weight loss a new lease on life.
Cape Town-based preschool principal Vanessa Robson had always battled to manage her weight. Having tried various diets over the years, she’d pretty much accepted her body size was not going to change.
‘I’d never really considered myself to be obese,’ Vanessa says. ‘But I was very weight conscious. In my family I’d always been the chubby sibling who would stand at the back in group photographs. Now, in my role as a school principal, I’m in the public eye, so my weight consciousness has always had to do with self-esteem rather than anything else.’
Vanessa had never considered medical intervention, but after watching TV programmes about bariatric surgery and a chance encounter with someone who’d had it done successfully, this changed.
‘Although I’d heard of bariatric surgery, I still didn’t consider that I fit the requisite criteria. My impression was that it was a procedure reserved for severely obese people. Then I learnt that the mom of one of my son’s friends had lost around 30kg thanks to surgery. While she was overweight, I hadn’t considered her to be obese.’ Knowing this sparked Vanessa to look into surgery for herself.
Generally reserved for individuals with a body mass index (BMI) of 40kg/m2 or more, bariatric surgery achieves both short- and long-term weight loss. The procedure, which was developed in the 1960s and has been refined since then, changes the inner workings of the stomach and small intestines, promoting early satiety and in some cases malabsorption. Various surgery types are available, depending on the patient’s requirements. In Vanessa’s case, her surgeon, Dr Etienne Swanepoel at Mediclinic Durbanville, recommended Roux-en-Y gastric bypass (RYGB) surgery as her best option.
‘Gastric bypass surgery uses laparoscopic techniques,’ explains Dr Swanepoel. ‘A small pouch is constructed through stomach separation and connected to the small intestine. This pouch is effectively a “new” stomach, where less food is accommodated, so the procedure is followed by rapid weight loss.’
Having done her research, Vanessa decided it was literally a case of now or never. To soothe her preoperative jitters, the medical team provided an informative and proactive support structure to calm her nerves.
‘The thought of surgery was daunting,’ she admits. ‘I was petrified! But Dr Swanepoel and his team were incredible. I went through all the preoperative tests and they explained everything to me in such an informative and reassuring manner.’
Vanessa’s surgery proved a success, and her recovery was good. After a two-day hospital stay, she was discharged feeling exhilarated.
‘The operation was life-changing,’ she says. ‘I felt like I’d conquered Everest. I suffered no side-effects and the weight started falling off almost immediately. In the end, I lost around 45kg. But I’m very aware of my lifestyle choices; it’s a lifelong commitment and I’ve adjusted my eating habits accordingly. This extends to follow-ups and monthly support meetings too. Connection to doctors and fellow patients alike is vital and I can’t emphasise that enough.’