This three-part documentary series returns to Sunderland’s Royal Hospital, where its specialist ward for the morbidly obese treats patients who are seeking surgery to battle their weight gain.
“Bariatric surgery – it works. There’s a whole host of medical conditions that get better with your weight coming down – no magic tablet does that yet. How do you put a cost on a new life, getting back into work, enjoying your family, becoming useful? I see somebody getting their life back.” – Peter Small, senior consultant surgeon
Focusing on one of the busiest NHS obesity units in the UK, Weight Loss Ward follows the personal stories of the patients, their journeys to losing weight, possible reasons behind their weight gain, the reality of gastric surgery and its consequences.
The series also gives a unique insight into the challenges faced by the ward’s 50 specialist hospital staff in getting patients to lose weight, to keep it off, and the tasks they face in performing surgery on them.
In episode one we meet 30-year-old Terry Gardner, who previously featured in the programme having ballooned to 47 stone and being forced to sleep downstairs in his house due to his weight. At that point, he had split up with wife Leanne but now the couple are back together and Terry, the heaviest patient on the ward, is determined to lose weight for the sake of his two children.
“We went through a bad patch – falling out of love that’s what basically triggered me eating. Ten years on from that, I’m this, trapped in my own body. Feeling like my weight is eating me up. I want to be able to walk out the door, I want to be able to walk out the door with my children.”
Previously he was seen struggling to accept that his bad eating habits were hampering his weight loss, but eventually Terry accepted he needed to change. Under local anesthetic, he had a temporary gastric balloon inserted that was then filled with fluid, reducing the size of his stomach by fifty per cent.
“I was the type of person that would just sit around the house, play on the computer, basically a house potato. Nine months ago my head really wasn’t in it, it was too quick because I wasn’t expecting it, I did actually struggle with my weight, I sneaked things that I shouldn’t have and after that I was given the opportunity to have the gastric balloon and that worked for me. I’m a lot happier than I was nine months ago.”
The gastric balloon has to be removed after six months in case it perishes due to the acid in the stomach – and he is offered the option of a permanent gastric bypass – but If he slips back into his old eating habits and gains weight, Terry will be refused surgery.
Terry and friends Laura Lamb and David Harper who feature in the programme all live in the village of Hetton le Hole. They’re all 35 or under and aware of the potential future health implications if they don’t lose weight. Peter Small says this doesn’t surprise him: “This used to be a heavy industry area and if you look at the other obese areas in the country they were also heavy industry. What have our jobs been replaced with? We’ve got a lot of call centres around here, mainly sedentary, if you’re unemployed, what are you going to do for the day? I’m sure having nothing to do doesn’t help matters. The only way we increase our calorie burn these days is to actually exercise and that used to be how you lived.”
He also reveals: “About 80 to 90 per cent of the patients that come in are on tablets to elevate their mood. Mentally, almost universally they are very depressed. People do comfort eat in reaction to stress.”
One patient who has been on and off anti-depressants since her teenage years is Laura, 29, a full-time housewife and mother of two who weighs 19 and half stone. She is on the list for surgery after three attempts to get her weight down to an acceptable level to undergo the operation.
Her next hurdle is an all-inclusive holiday booked before she got her surgery appointment – returning just a week before she goes under the knife. That means she might face a battle to keep her weight down for the operation, and if she gains weight it can’t go ahead. She says: “When I got the call I was a bit like ‘Oh, s-, t’s going to happen.’ I’m literally going to be sweating like a fat bird. I’m going to try and be good because if I mess up the outcome will be I won’t get my operation, and then I’ll be thinking I’ve paid for this, I’m going to get my money’s worth.”
David, 35, is full-time carer for his dad, Albert, who is now paying the price of a lifetime working in a mine with the lung disease emphysema. He started gaining weight when he was working as a security guard and now at 31 stone, he believes his obesity time-bomb is ticking: “Knowing what I have to do for my dad has given me insight into what people might have to do for me in the future and I don’t want that. It’s a case of needs must, and it’s not ‘must’ at the moment, it’s ‘have to.’”
His dietitian sets him a goal to lose three kilogrammes or nearly half a stone by his next appointment – and before he gets on the scales, he insists he has changed his ways: “I don’t snack, I eat more fruit. I have a banana in the morning, apple at dinnertime. Salads and everything is fine by us.”
Weight Loss Ward airs on ITV at 8pm on Tuesday 7th, 12th and 19th January, 2014.