Friday, August 1, 2014 12:00 AM

Epidemic of 'Diabesity' meets its match

Once an insulin dependent diabetic patient, Paul Ferguson has lost over 200 pounds and was able to stop taking most of his medications the day after bariatric surgery.

Minimally invasive gastric bypass procedures that have long been associated with successful long term weight-loss are now proving to provide improvement or resolution to diabetes. A 10-year study by the doctors at the Bariatric & Metabolic Surgery Program at Fresno Heart & Surgical Hospital shows 4 out of 5 of their patients are cured of their diabetes.

Another study led by the hospital’s bariatric surgeons Saber Ghiassi when he was a resident 

at Stanford University found that those who had gastric bypass surgery were also able to significantly reduce their medications for hypertension and diabetes a within a year after surgery – leading a to a big drop in health care costs.

That’s good news for California which spends nearly $24 billon on diabetes annually and $21 billion on obesity-related illnesses. It’s especially encouraging for Valley counties which have some of the highest rates of obesity and diabetes in the state at 30% and 9.4% respectively. In Fresno County, 35% of patients age 25 or older have diabetes, costing hospitals an additional $42.2 million each year, according a study done by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

California is confronting this problem by investing in programs that promote healthy eating and encourage regular physical activity. Bariatric surgeons at Fresno Heart and Surgical say while a surgical solution may be extreme, the cure happens faster and for many is more sustainable than diet and exercise alone.

“Looking at our recent data, we see that about 80% of patients with diabetes are resolved within one year of surgery,” said Aaron Lloyd, Bariatric program manager at Fresno Heart and Surgical Hospital.

“When it comes to the surgical management of diabetes this is a relatively new concept for people, but it’s been in the surgical literature for decades,” Dr. Kelvin Higa said. “Even the best medical practices cannot match the results we obtain with surgery.”

In a study released in 2009 by Dr. Higa and Dr. Keith Boone of the Bariatric & Metabolic Surgery Program, diabetic patients who had under gone the laparoscopic Roux-en Y gastric bypass were tracked for 10 years and showed an 83% resolution in diabetes at the 10 year mark.

“You can imagine what a tremendous thrill it is for me,” Higa said of the results his patients experience.