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American 'happy' after weight loss surgery in Jamaica

By Nadine Wilson Observer staff reporter wilsonn@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, January 21, 2014    

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MANY people come to Jamaica for sun, sea and sand, but when 57-year-old Mathew Robinson came to the island in mid-September last year, it was for a new lease on life.

The Manhattan architect told his brother he was coming to Jamaica on vacation, but instead, he spent three days at the Medical Associates Hospital in Kingston, where he underwent an hour-long weight loss surgery that has drastically altered his eating patterns.

Robinson did a sleeve gastrectomy, which was carried out by local obesity and laparoscopic surgeon Dr Alfred Dawes and his team.

In just five months Robinson has managed to lose almost 50 pounds and has reduced his pants size from 45 inches to 38 inches, as a result of the surgery.

"I am happy as a punch," said Robinson, who, prior to surgery, weighed in at 268 pounds.

"When I look at the life I have now, my life is completely different," he told the Jamaica Observer.

A sleeve gastrectomy is an invasive surgery whereby doctors remove a part of the stomach so that an individual will eat less. The procedure is one of the fastest-growing weight loss surgeries in North America and Asia.

Robinson, who is a self-professed "soda junkie", said his eating habits have completely changed since the surgery. One of the hardest habits to kick was his heavy consumption of Mountain Dew, but he said he drinks mostly water these days.

"I would be by the side of my desk and I would say, let me have a glass, and then I would have another and then another. So I was drinking it like I was drinking water," said Robinson, who was used to drinking at least two litres of soda in two hours.

The sacrifice he has made to achieve a healthier life has paid off. He is happy he can now tie his shoe laces, he no longer has knee or back pain, and his self-confidence has gone through the roof — so much so that he now feels comfortable flirting.

"It sucks when your friends say, 'Hey, Mathew, when is the baby coming, or when are you delivering?'" he said.

"It's nice hearing compliments again," Robinson shared. "It's nice hearing that you look great."

Robinson now enjoys cycling and he also swims, walks and jogs to stay in shape.

His ultimate goal is to lose another 22 pounds in the next three to six months and to maintain his new lifestyle. He no longer gorges himself on potato chips and soda, but instead tries to use his small stomach to consume foods that are more nutritious for his body.

"The reason why I chose to do the surgery is that I want to do everything I can right now to prevent having a nightmarish life when I am 67, or 70, or 80," he told the Observer.

But while he knew he desperately needed to lose weight, it was the cost factor that made him choose to do the surgery in Jamaica as opposed to in the United States. He said that whereas doctors were going to charge him US$22,000 in New York, he got the surgery done for US$8,000 here.

Dr Dawes, who is the managing director for Mahogany Health and Fitness, explained that people who have a sleeve gastrectomy done could lose up to one pound daily for the first three months after the surgery. The recovery time is also short, as within two days after doing the surgery, patients are allowed to go home.

"There are a lot of health benefits and people generally speak about the change in their lives after," he said, while adding, "it boosts your self-esteem and your self-confidence, and you are able to do a lot of things that you weren't able to do before, such as playing with family."

The surgeon said he did a number of these procedures while he was working in Brazil, however, this option is fairly new to Jamaica. In addition to doing the surgery, the patient is guided on the necessary lifestyle changes he or she needs to make in order to see the optimal results.

Besides the sleeve gastrectomy, there are other weight loss surgeries that are being offered by his team. This includes the gastric balloon and the gastric bypass.

The gastric balloon procedure is non-invasive and can be done in just 30 minutes. Essentially, a balloon is inserted into the stomach which takes up space, so you are forced to eat less.

"You can lose about 20 to 40 pounds over three months and the cost is less than half the amount of the other surgeries," Dr Dawes explained. "Nobody would know that you have it in."

The gastric bypass is recommended for those who have diabetes and whose Body Mass Index (BMI) is over 30 per cent. "So if you are under 30 per cent and just want to lose weight so that you can get into a wedding dress, then you could do the gastric balloon," the doctor noted.

Obesity has become an issue of concern for Jamaica, given the high incidence of deaths resulting from cardiovascular diseases each year. As such, Dr Dawes said that efforts are being made to create a comprehensive bariatric unit at the Medical Associates Hospital to adequately attend to the needs of the super obese.

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