Weight-Loss Surgery Arrives at Arkansas Heart Hospital

by Mark Friedman  on Monday, Mar. 20, 2017 12:00 am  

Dr. Samuel Bledsoe, director of the Bariatric & Metabolic Institute at the Arkansas Heart Hospital, says his staff has seen hundreds of patients since it opened the first of the year.

The Arkansas Heart Hospital in Little Rock recently began offering weight-loss surgery as a way to fight heart disease and rising obesity rates in Arkansas.

The newly formed Bariatric & Metabolic Institute at the Arkansas Heart Hospital started seeing patients at the first of the year and has had “hundreds of patients” so far, said Dr. Samuel Bledsoe, the director of the institute. After the patients go through the necessary tests and screenings to determine if they are candidates for the weight-loss procedure, Bledsoe said, he estimates that by the summer he’ll be performing between 20 and 40 surgeries a month.

The Arkansas Heart Hospital decided to offer the procedures because adult obesity rates have skyrocketed from about 10 percent of the population in Arkansas just a few decades ago to 35 percent, said CEO Dr. Bruce Murphy.

“It’s an epidemic,” Murphy said, and it is tied to several factors, including a lack of physical education in schools and the increased use of artificial sweeteners. Dieting and exercise almost never work for the obese for the long haul, he said. Surgery can also help diabetics, who account for about 40 percent of the admissions to the Heart Hospital, he said.

One of the stumbling blocks to getting the surgery, however, is the cost, which could be between $10,000 and $30,000 for insurance companies and less if patients are paying for it themselves, Bledsoe said. A number of insurance carriers don’t cover the procedure. “They don’t treat it like the medical problem that it is,” Bledsoe said.

Some insurance companies blame a patient’s lack of self-control for obesity, thinking that if the patient could just eat less and exercise more the extra weight would melt away. “Well, that’s fine if you’re 10 pounds overweight, but if you’re 100 pounds overweight, that’s a very different animal altogether,” Bledsoe said. “When you try and lose weight through diet and exercise, your body increases your appetite and drops your metabolism.”

But attitudes are changing.

In January, the American Diabetes Association for the first time included weight-loss surgery as a treatment option for diabetics. Surgery represents a radical departure from conventional approaches to diabetes.

“The new guidelines effectively introduce, both conceptually and practically, one of the biggest changes for diabetes care in modern times,” Dr. Francesco Rubino, a professor of metabolic and bariatric surgery at King’s College London in the U.K., said in a 2016 ADA news release.

The ADA urged that metabolic surgery be recommended or considered as a treatment option for certain people with diabetes, including those who are mildly obese and have failed to respond to conventional treatment, according to the news release.

Bledsoe, who joined the Heart Hospital in January after serving as the medical director for bariatric surgery at Christus Cabrini Medical Center in Alexandria, Louisiana, said that the surgery will “increase the quality of life” for the patients.

Within two to four weeks of surgery, patients can shed between 5 and 10 percent of their body weight, and by the end of 18-24 months, 60-80 percent of their excess body weight can be gone, he said.



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