In December, my partner, Dr. Jonathan Ray, and I have the opportunity to take part in something special – the Foothills Weight Loss Specialists and Blount Memorial Weight Management Center fashion show featuring bariatric surgery patients. The annual event provides an opportunity for participants to show off a bit – walk the catwalk and talk about what a difference their weight loss has made in their health and lifestyles.

This year’s celebration will mark the 11th annual fashion show. How has the event reached the 10-year mark and beyond? The secret to its success is simple, really.

First, it is remarkable to see the models’ change in appearance and to consider the amount of weight lost. Seeing patients with their former “fat” clothes or viewing before and after photos is always stunning. The 26 patients who participated in the 2012 fashion show represented a combined weight loss of 2,600 pounds. To put it in perspective, Ferrari is pioneering its next hybrid supercar, expected to come in at just under 2,500 pounds.

Second, the patient testimonials are compelling. The positive energy and gratitude are palpable in the air as participants share stories of newfound confidence, improved health, and the ability to wear fashionable clothes.

Often emotional and uplifting, testimonials also do a good job of conveying the significant benefits of having surgery. Below are a few examples from past events:

Carson Lynn lost 250 pounds in 18 months following his gastric bypass and said the surgery saved his life. “I was on oxygen, had high blood pressure, and my heart was out of rhythm. If I hadn’t had the surgery, I’d probably be in the ground tonight.”

“I didn’t realize how tired I was,” said patient Tami Hargis. “Now I’m ready to go every day!” Hargis lost 114 pounds following her gastric band procedure.

“I was taking three shots of insulin a day. Now I’m taking none,” said patient Larry Webb, who lost 125 pounds following surgery.

James Lawson lost 215 pounds in 15 months following his surgery. “I went from taking 17 pills a day to nothing. My diabetes is gone. This is the best thing you can ever do, and it can save your life,” said Lawson.

Diana Parton lost 66 pounds from August through December. “I came back from the hospital and got off my diabetes medicine, which I had to take twice a day. I took a handful of pills every morning, and now I only take three.”

While the fashion show is a “feel good” event that provides an excellent congratulatory platform for patients who have lost tremendous amounts of weight, Dr. Ray and I hope that it can also be an impetus for change.

Each year, among the crowd of patients, friends and family members are individuals trying to decide if bariatric surgery is right for them. The fashion show affords these individuals the opportunity to hear real stories from real people and see what is possible if they are willing to commit to change.

And, while far too many people still consider bariatric surgery a purely cosmetic procedure, its health benefits are far too significant to ignore. Consider the statistics for the 26 models from 2012 (see chart).

The link between bariatric surgery and resolution of diabetes is further confirmed by STAMPEDE, a study published in the March 26, 2012, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. The study concluded that bariatric surgery resulted in better glucose control than medical therapy in severely obese patients with Type 2 diabetes. The results of the study were significant. At two years, diabetes remission had occurred in no patients in the medical therapy group versus 75 percent in the gastric-bypass group and 95 percent in the biliopancreatic diversion group. The results also showed that remission was independent of weight loss, suggesting that the positive outcomes are a result of metabolic changes achieved through surgery.

Do you have morbidly obese patients who have repeatedly failed at all efforts to lose weight? If they seem truly ready for and committed to change, I encourage you to consider recommending bariatric surgery. I’d love to see them on the catwalk in a year or two.

Mark A. Colquitt, MD, FACS, FASMBS, is Director of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery at Blount Memorial Hospital in Maryville, Tenn., and is a bariatric surgeon with Foothills Weight Loss Specialists, a division of Premier Surgical Associates. Colquitt is board certified by the American Board of Surgery. He is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons and of the American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery and is a member of the Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons.

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