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Woman Suffers from Lap Band Surgery Gone Wrong - Wernicke's Disease

Neurological diseases sometimes occur (if very rarely) triggered in part by a weight loss surgical procedure for various reasons -- some avoidable -- some not, please don't hate.  (Says she who developed a cognitive disorder and intractible epilepsy after weight loss surgery.  Be kind.)  The woman in the following story developed Wernicke's Disease after gastric banding surgery in 2009.

Wernicke's disease occurs at times with persistent vomiting after WLS, a study in Neurology (2007) states that in a review of cases a "majority of the patients (25 of the 32) had vomiting as a risk factor, and 21 had the classic Wernicke's triad of confusion, ataxia, and nystagmus. Other symptoms seen in these patients included optic neuropathy, papilledema, deafness, seizures, asterixis (bilateral) flapping tremor of the hands and wrist, weakness, and sensory and motor neuropathies."
  • A small number of cases, patients who undergo weight reduction surgery may develop Wernicke's encephalopathy, marked by confusion and problems with movement and eye control.
  • The cause is a thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency and, if detected, can be easily corrected with dietary supplements. Untreated, it can be fatal and cause severe neurologic morbidity.

Shacka says she suffers from multiple health issues because of a lap band surgery she had in California back in 2009. It went horribly wrong.  And since then her independence is gone and her life has never been the same.

"At some point, I say I don't know what my life is supposed to be like now.  Like, where am I supposed to go?  Where do I fit in?," said Shacka.

But what is lap band surgery?

"They're a weight loss surgery where this band is placed around the top part of the stomach.  The bands have a balloon on the inside on the inner surface and through adjustments in clinic, the balloon can be tightened or loosened and help people feel full on a smaller amount of food," said M.D. Corrigan McBride of the Nebraska Medical Center.

Officials from the Nebraska Medical Center say health issues with weight are a common factor for patients battling weight gain and obesity.

"There's a certain percentage of patients that it's just not the right weight loss tool for them and they will elect to have the bands removed and converted to a different surgery," said McBride.

"I said I can't do this anymore, I need to go to the hospital.  This is not right, I'm still throwing up.  And finally I went in, and by then I had double vision and that's a sign of neurological disease," said Shacka.

Shacka also suffers from Wernicke disease—a form of brain damage.  She says this was a result of her surgery.  Through years of therapy, learning how to walk, speak and use her hands again, Shacka says her journey to better health isn't over.

"I beat the odds twice.  They told me I would be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life…and I'm walking.  They told me I would never do steps again, I went up four flights of steps with one physical therapist.  So I beat the odds and I need more additional help," said Shacka.

But through this traumatic experience, Shacka says she sees the bright side of it all.

"I met some wonderful, wonderful angels who've helped me to know what life is about.  I can't take that back and I would have never gotten it if I wouldn't have gotten sick," she said.

And her fight to spread awareness about the risks of lap band surgery keeps her motivated.

"You don't give up, and I'm not going to give up.  And I guess this is my way of not giving up and living life," she said.

Shacka plans to sue the doctors in California that did the surgery.  She's had some financial struggles raising enough money to hire a lawyer, but finally met that goal.  Now, she is trying to raise enough money to receive therapy and more medical treatment at Mayo Clinic. 

Clin Nutr. 2000 Oct;19(5):371-3.  Wernicke's syndrome after bariatric surgery.


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