In contrast, about 20 percent of gastric bypass patients experience such serious complications as surgical leaks, hernia, wound infection and bowel obstructions. About one in 200 gastric bypass patients dies as a direct result of the procedure.
A week or so after the pacemaker surgery, the device is activated remotely by computer. The battery is expected to last about five years before it needs replacement in follow-up surgery.
Tired of trying to shed excess weight, Jamie Finley will begin a trial of the gastric pacemaker.
(Robert A. Reeder - The Washington Post)
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A Question From the Edge: Is Fat Contagious? (The Washington Post, Aug 3, 2004)
Study: Pediatricians Can Miss Obesity (Associated Press, Aug 2, 2004)
Arthur Frank, medical director of the GW weight loss program, said he doesn't expect the pacemaker to substitute for other weight loss methods. But it could be an alternative for people who haven't had success with traditional methods like diet and exercise or even weight loss medications. And it may be particularly useful for patients like Finley, who are not considered heavy enough to justify a gastric bypass.
"Is it interesting? Yes," said Frank. "Is it effective? That's what we're trying to study. What we do know is it's a good deal less invasive than gastric bypass. Is it safe? We'll be looking at that, too."
In addition, if the device does prove effective, researchers hope to get a better sense of how and why. For now, that's a puzzle, said Brody.
One theory holds that the pulsor helps relax the stomach muscles and thereby communicate a feeling of satiety to the brain. Electrostimulation of the stomach already is an accepted treatment for gastroparesis -- a serious digestive disorder that causes nausea and vomiting, Brody said.
For Finley, not just weight but also related health concerns are driving her latest push to slim down. Diabetes and high blood pressure -- both closely linked to obesity -- are rampant in her family.
"I'm afraid it's just a matter of time before the weight catches up with me," she said.
Already, excess weight eats away at her energy level.
"Around 2 p.m. every day I hit bottom," she said. "I have no energy left. And don't even talk to me about climbing stairs."
Being heavy also has been hard on her self-esteem.
"I know I'll feel better about myself if I can lose the weight," she said. Though reaching her weight goal would mean dropping about 60 pounds, Finley said she'd be happy losing 25.
That's how Candy Bradshaw, a 47-year old corporate manager in Boston, said she felt five years ago when she reluctantly agreed to join a friend in the pulsor's first round of clinical trials at Tufts.
"I figured: If it works, it works; if it doesn't, it doesn't," said Bradshaw.