By Sola Ogundipe
Funmi was tipping the scales at 157 kg when she decided to seek help for her overweight problem. She was overweight, obese, and had an umbilical hernia.
Young and intelligent, her physical appearance and poor health status however combined to lower her self esteem and confidence. She carried on this way until someone introduced her to Euracare—a multi-specialist hospital in Lagos.
There she met Dr Abuchi Okaro, Consultant Laparoscopic Gastrointestinal and Bariatric Surgeon who guided her to drop to 128kg, after weight loss surgery followed by three months of treatment.
“My belly was bulging and it was becoming painful whenever I had my monthly period,” Funmi recalled. “I was introduced to Dr Okaro towards the end of 2017. He was patient and quite understanding, but I didn’t expect it when he told me that surgery was the solution to my problem.
“I went home two days after and stayed indoors 10 days. I was thinking of my health when I came in initially and Dr Okaro explained it all to me, did a sketch of my tummy and explained the challenges.”
Funmi tried to lose weight on her own and did Keto Diet, but I was almost going to lose her life. The Keto didn’t work and it actually broke the camel’s back.
“Exactly one year after I started the Keto, I lost just 1 kilogram, it was very frustrating. I tried a popular food supplement, it didn’t work either. I tried so many others, none worked,” Funmi noted, saying Okaro told her the only option was surgery. “I had never done surgery. I’d heard about how people had surgery in Nigeria and died and I was scared.”
Funmi quickly relayed her fears to the doctor about surgery. She had never undergone surgery in her life and was scared to death. “I don’t want to die,” she cried but the doctor only smiled. But he said I was not going to die, that it’s not that bad and that I could do it (surgery).
“I said I would think about it and went home. I called my sister who was in the US and told her I had to do surgery and was going to die. But she also said if that was the case then I didn’t have a choice. I thought about it for eight months before returning to the hospital to do the surgery.
“The first time I visited the hospital was in May, second time was August, he reassured me and i came around the third time on the 9th of October and did the surgery.
How did Funmi feel during through the surgery and afterwards? “I could only pray,” she noted. “I remember being in the theatre and was aware they were talking to me. All I can recall is that somebody injected me and the next thing I was hearing was open your eyes. Behold I was still in the ward but the surgery was over.”
Bariatric surgery includes procedures performed on obese people. Weight loss is achieved through reduction of the size of the stomach with a gastric band or removal of a portion of the stomach among others.
Okaro who has performed over 300 weight loss and gastrointestinal surgeries (metabolic surgery), identified a lack of awareness about the negative health effects of obesity. He said maintenance of healthy weight and accurate information and education dissemination were key.
“Being overweight and having a little too much fat in the body is a real problem, but obesity can be treated. Actually there are moves by the WHO to have obesity defined as a disease. Weight loss surgery makes quality of like better. It’s tricky because so many patients forget what they were like before the surgery, especially now they are weighing a lot less. The surgery brings about change in not just your physical appearance but also in how your mind works,” Okaro observed.
Referring to Funmi , Okaro remarked: “Losing 30 kg in three months is good and in a year she could achieve a 60 kg weight loss in a healthy, organised way. It is really tricky to fly abroad for an operation. Who is going to follow you up, and are you going to jump on a plane every time to get a check up?
“Since I’ve done bariatric surgery in Nigeria I have met many challenges and obstacles. There’s the fear about the surgery; the biggest one is lack of accurate information and lack of understanding about what it means.
Funmi, who is currently single, is now engaged. “My fiance later confessed that one of the reasons he didn’t approach me earlier was because of my size. He said I was looking like his mother. Becoming slimmer changed all that, now I’m looking younger and healthier. Slimming down is the best solution for men and women having size problems. Slimming helps them get their confidence back.”
After Chinyere had her own surgery, she lost 20 kg in nine weeks. Normally a healthy person, she was quite picky about where to do the surgery. “I did a lot of research in advance and I’m very satisfied with the results. I live that expert life, where you spend a lot on luxury holidays and so far this has been the best I’ve ever spent. With the result I’m getting mentally, physically emotionally from here, you can’t put a price on it. I feel great.”
Like many Nigerians, Chinyere had initially wanted to fly to London for her surgery, and then found out about Euracare.
“I went onto YouTube and did a research. I felt confident and I think what finally swung it for me was coming for follow ups which would just be a phone call away, rather than flying abroad. So I changed my mind that if the doctors and patient care is as good as in the UK, why fly all the way there spending money for follow ups and all that?”
Nevertheless she was still a bit apprehensive until her husband came to Lagos checked out the hospital and said he was comfortable with it.
“My mother also came and was also comfortable with the set up and gave the green light. The key thing was that I knew I was in the right hands when I said to the anaestologist that I was a bit scared. He just said, okay, and talked me through it, relaxed me instead of dismissing my fears. I was much more confident from that point.”
Chinyere wasn’t essentially scared because the surgery was taking place in Nigeria. According to her, she would have been scared in the UK as well but was encouraged by the doctors at Eurocare.
Okaro reflected on the assurance of anxious, concerned patients. “Patients want to be reassured, they are always reaching out asking to be reassured. The concept here is that when the patient comes to you, they are often not clear about what they want. Sometimes they seek these in indirect ways. They could be snappy or they could be quiet, you just need to understand your patient.”
Okaro said the challenge is if patients reaches out for reassurance and doesn’t get it, they have choices. “Sometimes they withdraw and tell you they have changed their mind. It is normal to be scared before surgery but we want the patient to feel comfortable. Are we sensitive enough to the needs of the patient in terms of communication and interaction enough to inspire and reassure?
“Besides your ability, you can be the most skilled doctor, if you are not sensitive enough to the need of you patients, if don’t communicate well with your patients, they may at some point withdraw. Give the people the facts, that’s what matters.”
Okaro said confidence in the medical system in Nigeria is generally low so Euracare proving competent and capable team without compromises. “All my patients are very committed people come in demonstrating a lot of confidence and understanding in terms of understanding. One of the primary aims of the facility is total healthcare provision. It is offering quality diagnostic, preventive and curative medical diagnostic and treatment services available in the UK and US. it is helping to tackle medical tourism by offering Nigerians solution to their medical problems.”