A lifeline for the overweight


  • Focus
  • Thursday, 23 Feb 2017

Dr Kirubakaran speaking to a patient during the hospital’s weekly bariatric clinic on Thursdays.

LOOKING at her cheerful disposition and optimism, no one would have guessed that just five months ago T. Rekha was obese, depressed and on the verge of being critically ill.

Weighing 110kg before undergoing bariatric surgery at the Raja Permaisuri Bainun Hospital in Ipoh, the 37-year-old bank employee would grumble at the thought of having to walk 10 steps.

She wore the same clothes to hide her figure. She literally stayed home and binged on food.

“I was angry and depressed. I didn’t want to go out because I didn’t want to meet people.

“My legs hurt and I was constipated all the time. I couldn’t breathe properly, and because I wasn’t getting enough oxygen I couldn’t sleep,” said Rekha, who prior to her weight gain at the age of 27 weighed merely 40kg.

Rekha’s chance at a whole new life came about when she stumbled upon a newspaper article on the availability of bariatric surgery at the hospital in Ipoh.

Dr Kirubakaran said obesity often leads to other severe health complications.
Dr Kirubakaran said obesity often leads to other severe health complications.

Bariatric surgery includes a variety of procedures performed on people who have obesity.

“Although working in Singapore, I made the effort to come to Ipoh at least once a month to see the doctors at the hospital’s bariatric centre.

“After several sessions, I was given the go ahead to have the surgery. Since then, I’ve lost a total of 45kg, which I never was able to achieve with the expensive diet and meal replacement plans that I wasted my money on all those years.

“Now, my cholesterol level has come down. I no longer need medication to control my sugar level or to take blood pressure medication.

“I believe I’ve also just saved my kidneys,” she said.

Seeing Rekha’s physical and emotional transformation, her mother, K. Suselah, who weighed 100kg and whose diabetes was out of control, also sought help at the centre.

Rekha says after being treated for her obesity, her general health has improved?.
Rekha says after being treated for her obesity, her general health has improved.

“I underwent bariatric surgery in late January.

“It’s only been three weeks but I’ve lost 10kg and I feel so much better,” said the 56-year-old housewife from Malacca when met at the hospital’s bariatric centre last Thursday.

Despite success stories like that of the mother and daughter, public awareness on the availability of bariatric surgery at the Raja Permaisuri Bainun Hospital as well as its bariatric centre remains low.

Consultant General and Breast, Endocrine and Bariatric Surgeon Dr M. Kirubakaran said the first bariatric surgery took place three months at the centre in August 2014.

“In total, we’ve carried out 37 surgeries and seen 100 to 200 patients at our weekly sessions on Thursday afternoons, but many are still unaware of this.

“Most patients come to us through referrals from other government hospitals and district clinics,” he said, adding that Raja Permaisuri Bainun Hospital is one of few government hospitals in the country with a bariatric centre.

A patient seeking help at the Raja Permaisuri Bainun Hospital bariatric clinic?. Patients are usually advised to try following a specific diet or exercise plan before recommending surgery.
A patient seeking help at the Raja Permaisuri Bainun Hospital bariatric clinic. Patients are usually advised to try following a specific diet or exercise plan before recommending surgery.

Dr Kirubakaran said that patients are offered help beyond the usual advice to diet and exercise at the bariatric centre.

“We have an team comprising a dietician, pharmacist, psychologist, surgeon, endocrinologist, anaesthetist and sports physician who work together to find out the cause of obesity in each patient and treat them accordingly.

“Patients are also counselled for depression and we go examine their body mass index (BMI) and medical history.

“Only after going through all the possible options do we offer the option of surgery, with the exception of high risk cases,” he said, adding that there are instances of patients who do not go through with surgery as recommended because they do not want to change their lifestyle or more specifically, their eating habits.

Noting that obesity is too big a battle to be fought by one person, Dr Kirubakaran said those with obesity should not wait until they are suffering to seek help.

“Obesity is not just about weight, which is why going to slimming centres and having meal replacements won’t work.

A file image of surgery in progress at Hospital Raja Permaisuri Bainun. Doctors will only recommend bariatric surgery for obese patients after exhausting all other options. — Filepic
A file image of surgery in progress at Hospital Raja Permaisuri Bainun. Doctors will only recommend bariatric surgery for obese patients after exhausting all other options. — Filepic

“It’s so many other things and can lead to diabetes, heart failure, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, depression, all of which affect quality of life.

“Obesity is treatable but if you wait too long, there may be no turning back due to the complications that may arise.

“Eventually, it affects not just you but also your family and work,” he added.

To reach out to more patients, Dr Kirubakaran said the hospital’s bariatric centre will be holding its third Obesity Symposium at the hospital’s Daycare Complex auditorium on March 4, from 8am to 2pm.

“We would like to invite all obese patients to come find out more about the help that is available to them as well as listen to the testimony of patients who have undergone the surgery,” he said.

For details, call Noraini at 05-208 7341/208 7469 to register.

Facts about obesity:
  •  In 2014, a study published by British medical journal The Lancet ranked Malaysia as the country having the highest number of obese citizens in  Asia.
  •  The 2015 National Health and Morbidity Survey indicates that 17.7% of Malaysians are obese while another 30% of population is overweight. This means almost half the country’s population is either overweight or obese.
  •  Obesity leads to sleep apnea, diabetes, infertility, bronchial asthma, heart failure, coronary heart disease, osteoarthritis, fatty liver disease, gout, thromboembolism, depression and surgical risks among other diseases. 
  •  Bariatric surgery is a general term covering several types of weight loss surgery procedures to reduce the size of the stomach so that it can hold smaller amounts of food and shortening the small intestine to reduce the amount of calories absorbed by the body.
  •  At the Raja Permaisuri Bainun Hospital, the Asian Criteria-based body mass index (BMI) is used to determine obesity. 
  •  In general, only those with a BMI (kg/m2) equal or greater than 35 or Obesity Type II are considered for surgery.
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