Weight loss surgery a 'gamechanger' for type 2 diabetics

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Jeff Warwick has always had a tricky relationship with food, and his weight.

"I've always been the big kid,” Warwick says. “When I was in the 6th grade, I was 6'2", 205 lbs. The weight just kept going and going and going, and couldn't really get a grip on it."

By 2001, Warwick, who is now 57, was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, which is linked to excess fat.

"And being a guy, I just sort of let it go, let it get out of hand,” he says.

By 2014, his weight and his health were out of control.

"I weighed 468 pounds,” Warwick says.

He had nerve damage in both feet, blurring vision, and couldn't even walk to the mailbox, he had to drive.

Desperate, Warwick came to see Dr. Fritz Jean-Pierre, a bariatric surgeon and medical director of Wellstar Kennestone's Comprehensive Bariatric Surgery Services.

"One of the best moves I've ever made in my life,” says Warwick.

"I told him I really felt like gastric bypass was going to give him the best chance of getting his diabetes under control,” says Dr. Jean-Pierre."

In June of 2015, Warwick had a Roux-en-Y procedure, which dramatically reduced how much food his body can digest.  Right away, results.

"I had a 10-day follow-up and got on the scale,” Warwick remembers. “Saw that I had lost 28 pounds and I was amazed!"

But, it was more than that.  Even before Warwick's weight started coming off, his blood sugar began to drop.  Dr. Jean Pierre says he's seen this pattern over and over: patients get the surgery, and their type 2 diabetes goes into remission. And that's what happened to Jeff Warwick.

"He is completely off all his diabetes medications, and he’s doing spectacularly,” says Dr. Jean-Pierre.  “I really do believe it's a game-changer.”

Lifestyle changes and medication are typically the first-line treatment for type 2 diabetes.  But, Dr. Jean-Pierre says bariatric, or metabolic, surgery can quickly help patients with unmanageable get their disease under control.

"When you compare the advantages of metabolic surgery, compared to the best medical treatments, you still see better outcomes with the metabolic surgery,” Jean-Pierre says.

The results are so remarkable, the American Diabetes Association now says bariatric surgery should be offered as a treatment for difficult-to-manage type 2 diabetes, not just in people who are severely overweight, but in those who are only moderately so.  But the ADA says patients like Jeff also need lifelong support.

He agrees.

"The surgery itself is not a miracle cure, it is not a magic cure, a magic bullet,” Warwick says. “Nothing like that. It is a tool.  And the tool, it's up to you what you want to do with the tool."

Jeff has taken that tool and run with it. He’s changed the way he eats, and he’s now more active No more driving down to the mailbox.  He can walk, thank you very much.

"Since surgery, I have lost 173 pounds, as of today,” he says. "I feel great about myself."

Bariatric surgery is not for everyone.  It’s expensive and, like all surgical procedures, comes with risks.  But Warwick says he wishes he would’ve gotten the procedure done years ago.