During the epidemic, the interest in bariatric surgery increased.

There are a number of reasons why, but the main reason, according to Heather Sarten, director of bariatric navigation at HCA Gulf Coast, is that obesity is a risk factor for COVID-19.

“People realized I could really get sick, it would be devastating,” said Sarten, a Liga resident. “And losing weight can be the biggest way to fight it.”

Even if obesity does not help diagnose COVID, Sarten added that it can make recovery difficult.

“COVID is a respiratory problem,” he explained. “That extra weight sitting on their lungs makes it much harder to breathe.”

Sarten added that patients tend to think about bariatric surgery for some time before choosing a procedure. The epidemic has simply accelerated the process.

“It will be about being at home, having nothing else to do,” Sarten said. “People are finally slowing down to realize that their health is possible, that they need to do something about it to prevent their health from falling behind.”

Although selective surgeries were discontinued for months due to the epidemic, HCA candidates for bariatric surgery continued to move forward to prepare for the procedure.

“There is so much work to be done to prepare for bariatric surgery,” Sarten said. And all that work could go on virtually.

Then, when elective surgery became available, the patients were ready.

“As soon as we opened it, we were able to operate again, we were full,” said Sarten.

When nothing was different

Sarten, 43, personally knows what it means to choose bariatric surgery.

Weight was not something he struggled with as a child or teenager. But in his mid-20s, a thyroid disorder led to weight gain.

First, Sarten gained about 20 or 30 pounds, despite his best efforts with diet and exercise.

“Nothing I did made any difference,” he said.

His hair fell out և he was constantly tired. “Something is not right,” he thought.

But his doctors were not convinced. They told him to exercise more or go on a diet, not hearing that he had already tried it all.

“I was 100 pounds fat at the time,” Sarten recalls.

When he was finally diagnosed and took medication that worked, he stopped gaining weight.

“But that does not mean it will go away,” Sarten said.

When she received the trampoline for Christmas, she was excited to play with her children. But he weighed more than the allowable limit.

“It was devastating,” he said. “I sat in the yard of my house, cried and cried. “Something has to change.”

Sarten underwent surgery in 2009 in Colorado, where he was living at the time. When he moved to Houston around 2015, he underwent gastric bypass surgery.

“This is the best decision I have ever made,” said Sarten, who lost 110 pounds.

“I am healthy and happy,” he said. “Finally, I feel like a participant in the game of life. I’m not watching from the other side! “

Not to cure, but to control eating

In her current position at HCA, Sarten trains coordinators on how to best deliver quality patient care.

“I can help obese patients make programs better for them,” he said.

Dr. Dexter Turnkvest, HCA Gulf Coast Regional Medical Director for Bariatrics, explained that patients often need navigation guidance in the process.

“We want our patients not to feel alone,” he said.

Dr. Turnest also serves as Bariatric Medical Director at HCA Northwest, and Medical Director at HCA Conroe, President of the Harris County Medical Society.

He explained that the bariatry belongs to HCA Houston Healthcare’s Redefine Clinical Weight Loss Program, which offers personalized treatment for patients.

“We have mainly tried to develop a comprehensive program for overweight people,” he said.

Turnquest explained that the resources are available to patients who can achieve their ideal weight through exercise, diet, or medication.

For others, surgery may offer another option.

“Excess weight is one of the things that no one wants to talk about,” he said. “The truth is that it is the disease of our time. “Most Americans are overweight, and in fact the percentage of overweight people is increasing every year.”

“Every segment of society is excited,” Turnst added.

“The diseases it brings are significant; they shorten people’s lives, they reduce their quality of life,” he said.

These conditions include diabetes, kidney problems, and hypertension, all of which are risk factors for COVID-19.

“The biggest predictor of COVID death was obesity,” he said. “COVID pointed out that this is a serious issue, not one that can be ignored.”

Patients with a BMI above 40 with Redefine are candidates for gastric or gastric bypass. The two most popular types of bariatric surgery limit the amount of food a patient eats, as well as how hungry he or she becomes. These procedures may also be helpful for patients with a low BMI who have symptoms associated with obesity, including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and sleep apnea.

All available procedures are part of the treatment plan, Turnst said. “We are not treating anything,” he explained. “What we do is control something.”


Turnquest explained that doctors follow patients with Redefine for as long as the patient wants after surgery.

“We are committed to the success of our customers,” he said. “You just don’t leave after the operation.”

Redefine works with nutritionists, exercise specialists and therapists to ensure the continuation of healthy habits. There are also support groups.

“This is not a sprint to the finish line,” said Sarten. “This is a marathon. This is a lifelong decision. You need the support of your loved ones և medical team. ”

Obesity can often be a mental battle. For Sarten, trying all the diets չ not seeing results was a loss.

“It takes so long to see the pounds go down,” he said. “You do not see the needle moving on the scales, it’s very frustrating.”

Sarten felt his head hit the wall.

“I just felt I had no choice,” he said.

As a nurse, she spent a lot of time studying bariatric surgery before making the decision to continue.

“I was a little impatient with the surgery,” he said. “Most people only hear negative things. “I learned that bariatric surgery is safer than hip replacement surgery.”

However, it is not a magic pill, he tells patients.

“This is a tool,” he said. “It’s still a lot of work. You still have to read the labels և practice. It just helps you make a good choice. ”

And while COVID could raise awareness about the health complications of obesity, he hopes it will spark a long conversation.

“You deserve to be comfortable in your own skin,” he said. “You deserve to be healthy. It is very important to be healthy. “

Lindsay Peyton is a freelance writer based in Houston.