DUBAI // Emiratis who have had weight-loss surgery aim to exercise more, avoid life-threatening diseases – and finally fit into their dream cars.
Patients say the procedures have restored their confidence as well as reducing their risk of diseases.
Doctors at Rashid Hospital yesterday revealed they had carried out 40 bariatric surgeries last month, primarily on nationals, but also on expatriates and citizens from other Gulf countries who travelled here for the operations.
There are 240 cases on the waiting list. Doctors have carried out more than 200 operations.
“I just want a normal life – my weight is forbidding me from living,” said Mohammed Juma Mohammed, 39, an Emirati accountant who had gastric bypass surgery last month. He hopes to slim to 85 kilograms by the end of next year. He would not say how much he weighed before the surgery.
“I dream of walking a lot and [to] swim well without feeling tired,” he said. “Before, my legs were not able to carry me far. I could just walk 3-4 kilometres a day.”
The doctors said most patients were self-conscious. Before surgery they weighed more than 120kg, some more than 200kg, and risked diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases and joint problems.
The most popular surgeries in the UAE are the sleeve gastrectomy and the gastric bypass, in which doctors shrink the stomach and alter the digestive system to induce weight loss. More women than men have elected to have bariatric surgery.
High levels of diabetes and obesity in the Emirates have pushed up the number of people signing up for the operations.
More than 25 per cent of men and almost 40 per cent of women in the UAE are deemed dangerously overweight. Nearly a fifth of residents are diagnosed with diabetes, the second-highest prevalence of the disease worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation.
Patients are first advised to adopt a balanced diet and exercise by the team at Rashid Hospital, which includes surgeons, nutritionists, cardiologists, psychologists, physiotherapists, respiratory physicians and plastic surgeons.
But surgery is the only viable option for obese patients who have a body mass index – a calculation for body fat based on your height and weight – of 35 or more.
Many cannot fit into an airplane seat or sports car. Some leave their homes only at night and restrict meetings to friends and family.
“When they come to us, they are fed up of everything,” said Dr Faisal Badri, the head of general surgery.
He initiated the bariatric surgery unit at the hospital four years ago.
“They are isolated and depressed,” he said. “They come for help because nothing has worked.”
The first patient who underwent a bariatric operation at the hospital was an Emirati man who weighed 395kg in 2008. He now weighs 93kg and has returned to college, which he had previously opted to leave.
Since then, the hospital unit has performed 203 bariatric surgeries.
Dr Aliya Al Mazrouei, the head of bariatric surgery, said patients had come from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Many were motivated by health concerns.
“People are more aware of the diseases they are prone to [develop] because of obesity,” she said. “Everything changes once their weight is in control. When patients walk out with a big smile on their face, that’s the touching point for us.”
Doctors caution patients about depression and diet, saying compliance is vital or the pounds can pile on five years after surgery.
Gastric bypass surgery in a government hospital costs about Dh22,000, plus Dh15,000 per procedure for plastic surgery, like a tummy tuck or thigh lift, that is required a year later. The costs could double in private facilities. The procedures are free for Emiratis.
“Work on prevention with exercise and balanced meals,” said Dr Marwan Ahmad Al Zarouni, head of the plastic surgery unit. “It’s a big step for patients, especially females, to contact us, and trust is important. They need to understand what their body is going through.”
Patient Ali Ahli opted for a mini-gastric bypass 10 days ago after years of unsuccessful dieting.
“I tried everything before surgery,” said Mr Ahli, 33, an Emirati who works on the popular Arabic Sha’biyat Al television cartoon series. He aims to get down to 80kg this year. “Because of my weight, I could not sit in the car of my dreams. Now I feel my Lamborghini is approaching.”