More than 400 people were referred by Milford Regional Medical Center last year to other hospitals for weight-loss, or bariatric, surgery.
The demand prompted hospital officials to add the surgery to its list of services. Physicians from UMass Memorial Medical Center will perform the surgery in neighboring Milford, possibly as soon as January. "It is the number one referred procedure," said Sal Perla, Vice-President for Clinical Services.
People who are interested in the surgery, under a program Milford Regional is calling "Fresh Start," must first attend informational sessions, and counseling. If they meet the requirements for the surgery, they may then be recommended for it.
The first public information session is 6:30 p.m. Thursday, at Milford Regional Medical Center. Registration is required for the sessions. If someone plans to have the surgery, an information session is required. But for others, the session provides an overview of the options.
Bariatric surgery is seen by health care experts as an option for people who are morbidly obese. This level of weight can reduce a person's life expectancy by as much as 15 years, Perla said, citing the National Institutes of Health.
Who is a candidate for bariatric surgery? The people who will be considered must be at least 18, and have a Body Mass Index greater than 40. People who have a BMI greater than 35 may be considered if they have a weight-related illness, such as diabetes or sleep apnea.
The BMI is calculated based on someone's height and weight. A calculator is on the Fresh Start program website. So, for example, a man or woman who weighs 224 pounds, and is 5'8", has a BMI of 34.1 and would not be considered a candidate for surgery.
But a person who weighs 265 pounds, and is that height, would be a candidate.
Three different options for surgery will be offered at Milford Regional, according to Perla. They are: gastric banding, sleeve gastrectomy and gastric bypass.
Perla provided a brief overview of each option:
In Gastric Banding, a band that is adjustable is surgically placed around the stomach, and constricts the stomach until it holds about a half-cup of food at a time. The band tightness determines how much a patient can eat after the surgery. This procedure is reversable.
In Sleeve Gastrectomy, about 80 percent of the stomach is removed. A thin, vertical sleeve is inserted in its place, which is attached to the intestine. This option does not affect digestion.
In Gastric Bypass, the surgeon creates a small stomach pouch using a stapling device, then attaches the small intestine directly to it, limiting the amount of food that can be eaten, and bypassing a portion of the small intestine. This affects calorie absorption.
Before patients can choose any of the surgical options, they have to complete nutritional counseling and group classes, and receive a recommendation from nutritional staff for the surgery. This part of the process can take three to six months, said Jessica Tucker, the Clinical Nutrition Manager for Milford Regional.
The surgeons who will perform the procedures at Milford Regional are Dr. John Kelly, chief of Bariatric Surgery at UMass Memorial Medical Center, and Phillip Cohen, a bariatric surgeon who also practices at the Worcester hospital.
Both are expected to attend the informational sessions.