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Weight Loss Can Be Risky Business

The shrinking profiles of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and New York Jets Coach Rex Ryan have brought a renewed focus on weight-loss surgery as a solution for those dealing with the physiological and aesthetic issues of obesity.

But as a recent article in the New York Post notes, the surgery itself is not without risk. In fact, the surgeon who performed both Ryan’s and Christie’s procedure – Dr. George Fielding – is actually at the center of some 12 malpractice lawsuits in the U.S. and another 11 in Australia.

How common are bariatric surgery complications?  In a recent Shape Magazine article The National Institutes of Health and Dr. Edward Livingston, director of Bariatric Surgery at UCLA School of Medicine, provided statistics:

  • 20-40 percent of weight-loss surgery patients suffer “minor” complications like infection and abdominal hernia
  • Another 6 percent develop life-threatening complications
  • 10-20 percent need follow-up surgery, where complication rates are even higher
  • One in 200 die

The mortality figures are higher than those for many other common surgeries, which may be related to the fact that more obese patients have chronic conditions such as poor blood flow and respiration. And this leads to the question of which is riskier for some individuals – weight loss surgery or continued obesity?

In Dr. Fielding’s cases, insufficient pre-operative screening is being blamed for several patient deaths. One 27-year-old woman’s pre-op tests revealed a heart condition that may have contributed to her death, but no one told her. Another 45-year-old patient died after an esophageal perforation that went undetected.

If you are considering weight-loss surgery, get a full pre-op workup in consultation with your primary care doctor. And if someone you know has questions about medical malpractice, contact Barasch McGarry Salzman & Penson for a free initial consultation.


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