Family Man Turns to Bariatric Surgery After Years of Weight-Loss Challenges

Shant Kiyork struggled with his weight for years. He dieted, exercised, lost weight, but inevitably gained back what he lost and then some.

Fearing that his own attempts to control his constantly growing weight were failing, he chose to have laparoscopic gastric banding surgery, commonly called lap-band surgery, in 2006.

The lap-band was appealing to Shant because it was a less invasive procedure than gastric bypass surgery. But it later proved to be ineffective as a weight-loss tool because, much like his yo-yo dieting, he lost a little weight initially and later gained it back. He also started to have abdominal pain and bouts of vomiting, both of which can be side effects of the lap-band.

By the time Shant moved his family to Southern California, his excess weight was also threatening to create problems for him at work. A machinist by trade, Shant was beginning to have severe joint pain and he was concerned his weight would soon interfere with his ability to earn a living. At this point, he turned to Keck Medicine of USC.

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Shant’s experience is not uncommon, explains Namir Katkhouda, MD, director of the USC Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Program at Keck Medicine of USC and USC Verdugo Hills Hospital. “You have to understand that, 10 to 15 years after initial weight-loss surgery, you may sometimes have to redo it,” says Katkhouda. “The lap-band was once popular but has not withstood the test of time.”

It was clear that Shant’s body was in need of a second operation. But, before he could move forward with his surgery, he needed to go through a number of steps to make sure his heart and his mind were also ready. Weight-loss surgery is not a magic pill and requires the patient make lifestyle changes after surgery to stay healthy and free of complications.

All patients of the USC Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Program must attend a seminar, led by Katkhouda and his colleagues, during which various surgeries available to bariatric patients and their side effects are discussed. They also get a chance at the seminar to hear from previous patients about their experiences with weight-loss and revision surgery.

In addition, patients must attend counseling sessions with a nutritionist and a psychiatrist to make sure the patient understands what is going to happen and assess whether they are prepared to deal with some of the long-term lifestyle changes that come with surgery.

The procedure that Katkhouda recommended for Shant started with removing the lap-band and then performing a sleeve gastrectomy. Sleeve gastrectomy surgery is relatively new and involves removing about two-thirds of the stomach, including the part that secretes ghrelin, a hormone that signals hunger.

Revising a previous weight-loss surgery, says Katkhouda, is a far more delicate and meticulous operation than initial weight-loss surgeries. This type of revision can be tricky because the stomach tissue is often changed by the presence of the lap-band. Because of its difficulty, many doctors remove the band and, after a period of healing, perform the sleeve gastrectomy in a second surgery. Katkhouda, who has performed hundreds of these surgeries, can do both procedures in one surgery for nearly all of his patients.

“This is one thing that is special about Keck Medicine of USC,” says Katkhouda. “We do revisions and in 90% of the cases, it’s done in one shot and they don’t have to have another surgery three months later.”

Three months after his revision surgery, Shant believes his weight-loss is progressing well. He is eating more often, five to six times a day, but smaller portions and has shed 55 of the 180 pounds he needed to lose. His joint pain is gone and he can go to work and get through the day without feeling a lot of discomfort.

Though he expects it will take at least a year to get to his goal weight, he is so confident that he is going to reach it. In anticipation, he has already bought a celebratory sweater from a brand he admires but has never been able to fit into. He plans to wear it next winter when he hits his mark.

“It was a great experience and Dr. Katkhouda is a great doctor,” says Shant.

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by Hope Hamashige