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Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

Press Release

Inside Out North East & Cumbria features teenager whose life was saved by gastric bypass surgery

A BBC Inside Out documentary to be broadcast on BBC One (North East & Cumbria) on Monday 10 January at 7.30pm, will find out how a severely obese Tyneside teenager became one of the youngest people in the UK to have a gastric bypass – even though she couldn't get the treatment in the North East.

Jen Hogarth, aged 16, underwent the surgery in Sheffield last October, 2010, in spite of efforts to lose weight herself. Weighing in at 23 stone (146kg) with a BMI (body mass index) of over 50, Jen was so big she needed a respirator to help her breathe at night and she was developing diabetes. Her doctors told her drastic action was needed to save her life.

Jen says: "The doctors told me if I didn't get the weight off I was going to be dead by the time I was 20 – probably due to a heart attack.&quot

The surgery involved slicing a section of Jen's stomach in order to make a small pouch which was then reconnected to the lower intestine – massively restricting the amount of food Jen can eat. At the time of filming, Jen had already lost five stone (approximately 30kg).

Jen was overeating from an early age – with much of it resulting from bullying at school.

"It made me feel depressed… as soon as I got home I would just eat more."

Jen has had criticism from people who claim she's opted for a "quick-fix". But bariatric surgeon at Sunderland Royal Hospital, Peter Small, says surgery is never an easy option.

"Surgery is the last resort – it's not a quick fix. It is an aid to somebody making lifestyle changes and sticking to them – if they don't make them the surgery won't work."

Obesity rates among children in the North East are significantly higher than the England average. Twenty per cent of 11 year olds in the region are obese – with 5,000 children "clinically obese" and 1,500 "extremely obese". In spite of this potentially life-threatening scenario, gastric bypass surgery is not available to under-18s in the region.

A group of doctors from Newcastle want this to change. The clinicians, led by surgeon Bruce Jaffray who is based at the RVI, say that they had a clinical team ready to open a specialist children's weight loss unit in Newcastle, including the option of gastric surgery, two years ago but couldn't get the go-ahead to set it up from the primary care trust.

Mr Jaffray says: "I think there are a lot of misconceptions about what we're seeking to achieve here. People think it's about looking good or looking thinner – that's not what we're offering. We're trying to stop people dying in their thirties and fourties."

But health commissioners argue the money is better spent on prevention. Professor Sue Milner of NHS North of Tyne says: "At this point in time we don't think there is sufficient need in the region to invest in a specialist service because, of course, we only have a limited amount of funds. We have to prioritise where those funds are invested and we know we certainly need to invest in preventing young people from becoming morbidly obese in the first place."

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) – the body which governs the NHS – says that surgical intervention is not generally recommended for children or young people but bariatric surgery may be considered for them only in exceptional circumstances, and if they have achieved or nearly achieved physiological maturity, in other words, puberty.

Having surgery in Sheffield wasn't ideal for Jen, and her family got into debt to pay for the trips to and from the hospital. The cost of travel even prohibited her from making necessary post-operative visits back to the hospital.

Today, Jen has a new lease of life and is adjusting to a new eating routine which requires careful monitoring.

"I feel I've been given a new life, I'm going to get into college and I'm going to make everyone proud", says Jen. "I'm not the girl who hides away any more… I'm just as good a person as everyone else, I always was, it's taken until now to make me see that."


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