Emirati almost dies after weight-loss surgery goes wrong

The 28-year-old lost 50kg but was in a coma for a month after a severe surgical infection

A team of medical specialists at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi spent six weeks repairing complications following bariatric surgery on an Emirati patient. Courtesy: Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi
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What should have been routine bariatric surgery turned into a nightmare for a young Emirati who fell into a month-long coma after the weight-loss procedure went wrong.

Abdulla, 28, who did not want to give his full name, suffered extreme complications after going in for the surgery to reduce his weight from 150 kilograms.

Doctors assured him the procedure would be straightforward and his recovery swift. But after an injury to his diaphragm during surgery, his condition turned life threatening.

“You don’t go into a routine surgery like this expecting it to turn into a stroke, especially at my age,” he said.

“I remember the pain that I felt right after the surgery, which wasn’t normal at all.

“I could feel it course through my body.

“It kept on increasing to a point that I could not handle it any more.

“That is when I realised something was seriously wrong.”

We had to wash his insides out and put his bowel back together

He was transferred to specialist care at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.

“I received a call from surgeons at the hospital where Abdulla had the surgery explaining that he had entered a life-threatening situation and that it would require the multidisciplinary expertise of our hospital to save him,” said Dr Matthew Kroh, chief of the Digestive Disease Institute at CCAD, who performed several operations over the course of six weeks.

“This was a life-threatening event and a very unusual complication, which led to a severe outcome for such a young patient."

Abdulla had to undergo an urgent operation that included the removal of 1.5 metres of his small intestine, which is about seven metres, and part of his colon.

Stomach infections and a major pulmonary aspiration, where the contents of his stomach entered his lungs, caused further serious complications. This made his lungs harden and his blood pressure dropped to a dangerously low level.

He was immediately transferred to the intensive care unit, where he ended up in a coma and was placed on life support for a month.

His lungs soon began to improve but his intestines became infected and doctors had to remove another section of his colon – all while he was still on life support.

“We had to wash his insides out and put his bowel back together," Dr Kroh said.

The operation was done in stages over six weeks, when Abdulla had to be fed through tubes.

As he slowly began to recover and regain strength, he was removed from life support and began eating on his own.

His weight plummeted from 150kg to 102kg after the surgery but Abdulla laments the arduous journey he had to take to get there.

“The stroke affected my hands and legs so the doctors conducted physical therapy while I was still in intensive care,” he said.

“I have regained a lot of my mobility but will require more therapy.

“There are no words to describe my gratitude for the doctors, even thanking them a million times is not enough.”

Bariatric surgeries have gradually increased in recent years, along with the average waistlines of the UAE’s population.

A 2020 regional review of data compiled by the World Obesity Federation found 31 per cent of women and 25 per cent of men in the UAE were obese.

The threshold for surgical procedures is a Body Mass Index score of 35 – a healthy BMI for adults ranges between 18.5 and 24.9 – or if a patient has started to develop complications such as high blood pressure or diabetes.