Bariatric Surgery Takes the Floor

I finally just said, I've got to take the leap

U.S. Congressman Tom Reed voted for weight-loss surgery
and won back his health.

As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Tom Reed (R-New York) not only represents his country and his constituents, but he fights for what he believes in. That fighting spirit took a personal turn three years ago when he suffered a pulmonary embolism, a blockage in an artery in the lungs. It was a lifethreatening event that prompted Reed to try, as he had before, to lose weight.

“Following that health scare, I did drop some weight. But it all came back and then some,” Reed says. “I finally just said, ‘I’ve got to take the leap.’” Reed says in the mid-1990s his lifestyle morphed from that of a college athlete and all-American Division III swimmer at New York’s Alfred University to a law student in front of a computer. He hadn’t changed his indulgent eating habits, and started putting on weight. Multiple weight-loss programs failed him. “I would have successes, but then the weight would return,” says Reed.

According to Joseph Afram, MD, Clinical Director of Bariatric Surgery at the George Washington University Hospital, Reed’s attempts to lose weight were normal. “I’ve had patients try to lose weight for up to 20 years,” he says. “Ninety percent of them gain it back and suffer other medical conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure.”

The tipping point

As time went by, Reed says, he would eat without thinking, when he wasn’t even hungry. “I’d be standing at the refrigerator after dinner and reach in and grab something, or come home, have dinner, then eat the equivalent of another meal,” he says.

He would ask himself afterward why he did it, and couldn’t really come up with an explanation. He tied it psychologically to being the youngest in a family of 12 children who were taught to never “let food go to waste.”

It was following the pulmonary embolism, losing weight and gaining it back, that Reed had a conversation with his doctor to develop his next plan: bariatric gastric bypass surgery, where a surgeon would make his stomach smaller so it can only accommodate a small amount of food at a time. “When my doctor said, ‘Tom, you have a choice: you can either go at 61 years or 81 years of age,’ it really hit home,” says Reed. “I have a wife, a daughter and a son. My kids are 12 and 14. When you talk about 20 years being added to your life, it opens your eyes.”

Making a good decision

Candidates for gastric bypass surgery must attend a seminar to understand the procedure and undergo a complete psychological evaluation as well as an examination of their eating habits and weight fluctuations over the years. While the short-term complication rate from the procedures is low,* it is major surgery. For this reason, “We make sure patients have all the information they need to make a decision,” Dr. Afram says.

Hitting 310 pounds when he went in for his surgery, Reed has already lost 80 pounds as a result of the bypass and is down to 230. He says it was the right choice for him because he feels better. “It’s not about numbers, but just being healthy,” he says.

In addition to losing the weight, Reed was able to say goodbye to his medications, and other ailments associated with his weight. “His type 2 diabetes was gone after a few days, we took him off his high blood pressure medication and he lowered his cholesterol,” says Dr. Afram.

“I’m playing basketball with my son and not getting winded. It’s the little things — that make it easier to spend time with my family,” Reed says.

A life-changing event

Adjusting to gastric bypass surgery involves changing your diet, making sure to exercise and thinking about food differently. “People who choose surgery have to change their lifestyle completely,” Dr. Afram says. “This will be the No. 1 priority of their life.”

In addition to eating far smaller meals, Reed drinks plenty of water to avoid dehydration and takes vitamin and mineral supplements. He says it’s all very new to him, but he “just feels better” and doesn’t want to return to yesterday.

“The other day I watched my son eat a steak,” says Reed. “I don’t think I’ll ever eat steak again, but that’s OK.”

*Longitudinal Assessment of Bariatric Surgery (LABS-1), the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health

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The George Washington University Hospital is owned and operated by a subsidiary of Universal Health Services, Inc.(UHS), a King of Prussia, PA-based company, that is one of the largest healthcare management companies in the nation.         

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