Operation gives new lease of life

OLIVIA WANNAN
Last updated 05:00 06/01/2014
Lynda Sim
DESPERATE MEASURES: Lynda Sim before her trip to Korea for weight-loss surgery.
Lynda Sim
BRAVE NEW WORLD: Lynda Sim says the magic of bariatric surgery – after which she lost 60kg – is in the little things, like playing with dog Sophie.

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A "miracle" operation transformed an obese Wellington woman's life just over two years ago, but now she knows it's her turn to put in the work.

Karori resident Lynda Sim was one of two women flown to South Korea to have a free stomach-reduction operation. Since then, she has dropped 60kg, which has changed her life completely.

At first the weight dropped off, but at the two-year mark it's getting harder, and Mrs Sim's scales sit stubbornly above 100kg. "Sometimes I get discouraged by it, but then I remember all the things I can do now that I wasn't able to do before."

She is still severely restricted in what she can eat, and still faces an ongoing battle to resist filling up on junk food. "People getting the surgery need to realise it's not going to cure them from the reasons they ate too much in the first place," she says. "There's still a lot of emotional stuff and hard work that needs to be done."

At the start of 2011, Mrs Sim weighed 167kg, suffered from diabetes and sleep apnoea, and risked losing her vision. "I was constantly up at the doctors or specialists."

Her weight and poor health meant she couldn't leave the house without the help of husband Jono or son Zach, found household tasks almost impossible, and struggled to shower. "I found if I stood too long I couldn't breathe."

For most of her life, she was active, despite being "bigger" than normal, she says. But a particularly bad case of depression followed a miscarriage, during which the weight piled on. "I thought I was a burden to everyone. I was really miserable."

She knew exactly what could make the difference - bariatric surgery - but was refused the operation by a Wellington surgeon who deemed her too high a risk.

Then came the free offer from the Korea Tourism Organisation for a sleeve gastrectomy. "It was pretty much like a miracle, really."

She and Whanganui woman Jasmin Sciascia, with support people, received flights to South Korea, accommodation and the operation in February 2011.

A week after surgery, Mrs Sim could only stomach a poached egg before feeling full. "It took ages to build up the eating."

Soon after she came home, the Government announced further funding for the procedure, and Mrs Sim believes it should be made available to everyone who needs it. It makes sense on every level - especially financially.

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"The cost of looking after a diabetic is like $100,000 over two years, and the cost of the operation is like $17,000."

She now takes just 5 per cent of the insulin she used to need, and her life has been transformed.

"I would notice I could stand up long enough to make a cup of tea, I could fix dinners for the family . . . then it was things like being able to go away for a week to go to university courses, and doing some volunteer work. Each of those was like a milestone."

FAT CHANCE

Bariatric surgery reduces the size of a patient's stomach. This is done either by tying a band around the stomach, removing a portion of it, or by rerouting the small intestines to a small stomach pouch (also called gastric bypass surgery). The surgery costs between $17,000 and $35,000 in New Zealand's private health system. A sleeve gastrectomy, which Lynda Sim had to remove part of her stomach, can be done as keyhole surgery. The procedure costs about $18,000 to $20,000 in New Zealand, not including any intensive care needed after surgery. The same surgery in South Korea costs about NZ$9500. It takes about two hours and reduces the stomach to a banana-shaped sleeve about a quarter of its original size. Patients can lose half their body mass and weight-related health problems, such as diabetes. In 2010, the Government announced funding for an extra 300 operations over the next four years. This year, 28 people in the lower North Island had bariatric surgery, and seven are on the waiting list.

- The Dominion Post

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