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Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center


Bariatric Team Performs First Surgery

William McCracken walking around lake
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Story by Jennifer Lovett

The Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center performed it first bariatric surgery in the Center for Bariatric and Minimally Invasive Surgery recently.

“I am excited that we are doing bariatric surgery at the Charleston VAMC,” said Dr. Chitharanjan Pullattrana, head of the Center.  “There are several advantages of bariatric surgery—it helps our obese patient population with weight loss, and it greatly improves their chronic medical conditions.”


Bariatric surgery or weight loss surgery is performed on the stomach and intestine of people who are obese.  In long-term studies, these surgical procedures caused a significant long-term loss of weight, recovery from diabetes, improvement in cardiovascular risk factors, and a reduction in mortality of 23 to 40 percent.

“Veterans experience shorter incisions, a much lower pain level, shorter recovery time, and better healing with this minimally invasive surgery,” said Dr. Pullatt.  “However, the surgery itself will not lower weight and cure diabetes or heart disease.  Patients must play an interactive role.  Diet and exercise are a vital part of the program.  Anywhere from 10 to 15% of bariatric patients will gain weight after surgery because they don’t maintain a proper diet and an active lifestyle.”


The bariatric surgery team includes a dietitian, Kristin Crady.  She accompanied the first patient, William McCracken, to the grocery store, to explain how to shop for healthy foods.

“To say ‘eat healthy’ is easy but to actually do it is something else,” Crady said.  “Everyone knows that eating fruits and vegetables are good for you but eating salad every day gets boring.  There are plenty of options for eating healthy but if you’ve never been shown or taught what the other options are, the reality is that most people go back to what they know – boxed foods, frozen foods, easy foods.  I’m here to help them eat healthy food that they like and will continue to eat.”

The Center serves as the regional referral center for the three-state VA Southeast Network (Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina) and has the potential to benefit 14,000 Veteran patients in this region. 


Dottie Lee is the team surgery coordinator who meets with each potential patient to screen for possible surgery. 

“Each patient must undergo a screening process and join the MOVE! program for at least six months.  MOVE! is designed to help Veterans lose weight in a healthy way,” said Lee, a nurse practitioner. “The patient must also lose at least five percent of their body weight.  There are certain contraindicators that would disqualify a patient so the best thing is for any interested Veteran to discuss options with the Primary Care Provider.”

In order for a patient to be minimally qualified for bariatric surgery, the patient must have a body mass index of more than 35 and a serious weight-related health problem such as diabetes or high blood pressure, or a BMI of 40 or more.

Heather Friesen contributed to this article



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