A plea for life-changing obesity surgery has been answered by an Abu Dhabi hospital that has offered a free gastric bypass for a woman weighing more than 170kg.
Shannon Pipes, 35, has battled with her weight for most of adulthood.
The American teacher tried almost every diet but struggled to shift her excess weight, exposing her to serious health problems.
Despite qualifying for bariatric surgery as her body mass index tipped almost 50, insurers would not pay for surgery because she was otherwise healthy.
When surgeons at Burjeel Hospital read her plight in The National, they offered to step in and waive the Dh40,000 operation costs.
“We expect Shannon to lose two thirds of her excess weight within a year,” said Dr Basil Ammori, who led bariatric surgery services in the north west of England for 17 years before recently moving to the UAE.
“She has tried many diets before but failed, and has a BMI of 49 so hits the qualifying criteria.
“We had to make sure any mental health issues had been addressed and she was aware of the lifestyle restrictions this type of surgery has.
“It will be hard work for her, and Shannon must change her routines with more exercise and a better quality of diet, but it will change her life.”
Ms Pipes aims to eventually reduce her weight below 100kg to have a better chance of starting a family, one of the main motivations for opting for surgery.
Burjeel’s specialist bariatric team completed a series of rigorous tests to ensure her suitability for the gastric bypass operation, on Saturday morning.
Ms Pipes has been assessed by a gastroenterologist, endocrinologist, pulmonologist and anaesthetist to prepare her for surgery.
Dr Ammori will perform a Roux-en-Y procedure, creating a small pouch from her stomach, connecting it with the small intestine.
It should drastically suppress her appetite and encourage further weight loss by limiting hormones responsible for over-eating.
“This is one of the most common gastric operations,” said Dr Ammori, who has completed more than 6,000 gastric bypass surgeries and about 2,000 gastric sleeve procedures.
“There is a slight risk of an internal bleed leading to complications, but that is very small.
“If we do not close the gaps between the small bowel and the colon there is a slight risk of bowel twisting that can be serious, but unlikely.
“On average people lose about two thirds of their excess weight with this kind of operation.
“We want to get her ideal BMI down to about 24.9.”
Ms Pipes must have a liquid only diet for the first two weeks post-op so there is no strain on the new joints between her stomach and intestines.
She will also take anti-inflammatory medication, vitamins and minerals and will require regular blood tests in the first year.
“I didn’t think it was a realistic hope to have the surgery done, I just wanted to raise the issue of health insurance not covering this kind of operation,” said Ms Pipes, whose mother had a similar procedure almost 30 years ago.
“The whole process has been amazing.
“I’ve spent a lot of time at Burjeel Hospital and I have seen how well they treat other patients, not just me.
“I’ll lose the majority of my excess weight in the first year, so I know it is about maintaining good habits.
“This is a tool for better decisions in my life.”
It is not the first time Burjeel Hospital has stepped in to offer free surgery for grossly obese patients who have struggled to lose weight.
In 2017, the hospital’s founder Dr Shamsheer Vayalil took on the complicated case of Egyptian Eman Abd El Aty, who at 500kg was the world’s heaviest woman.