During a recent event sponsored by the American Heart Association (AHA), keynote speaker Rosie O’Donnell opened up to guests about a secret surgery she had in July of last year. The event, held in Detroit on Valentine’s Day, celebrated the ten-year anniversary of the AHA’s Go Red for Women movement, a cause created to raise awareness around heart disease (the number one cause of death for both men and women in the U.S.).
During the celebratory luncheon, O’Donnell took the opportunity to share her personal struggles with cardiovascular health. The comedian, actress, author, and LGBT rights activist suffered a critical heart attack in 2012. After unsuccessfully attempting to lose weight through diet change and exercise, O’Donnell decided to undergo vertical gastric sleeve surgery in July of 2013.
Vertical gastric sleeve surgery, sometimes referred to as “Sleeve” for short, is a form of restrictive bariatric surgery. Previously used only in patients considered to be high risk or extremely obese, the surgery is now more widely available and popular for people who want to avoid required routine adjustments of a foreign gastric band. The surgery involves vertically slicing and removing approximately 85 percent of the stomach. The remaining stomach measures between two and five ounces and is shaped like a super skinny banana.
Sleeve supports rapid weight loss in two ways: by reducing the size of the stomach and removing the part of the stomach that produces hunger hormones. In other words, patients who have had the Sleeve surgery generally experience a decrease in appetite and are only able to eat very small portions. According to NYU Langone Medical Center, Sleeve’s other benefits include fewer postoperative visits and very rapid weight loss, with many patients experiencing a 65 percent loss of excess weight within one to two years.
Rosie O’Donnell, who recently opened up about her secret weight-loss surgery, stated that Sleeve has helped her lose 40 pounds. Weighing in at about 230 pounds pre-surgery, the 5′ 7″ O’Donnell is now looking svelte and slinky at a sleek 190. However, the surgery is not without risk. Aside from being non-reversible, Sleeve can potentially cause leaks and other rare complications, such as internal bleeding. In addition, the stomach can stretch over time, causing some to experience weight regain. NYU Langone Medical Center surgeons also remind interested parties that the operation should be considered a tool to help support weight loss, stating that no surgery is fool-proof.
O’Donnell joins a growing list of celebs who have undergone similar weight-loss surgeries. Comedian Lisa Lampanelli got gastric-sleeve surgery in early 2012, Today Show star Al Roker attributes gastric bypass for his 140 pound weight loss, and Star Jones, former co-host of the hit television show The View, dropped 160 pounds in three years after her gastric bypass procedure.
However, weight loss surgeries like O’Donnell’s are simply not right for everyone. According to Dr. Mehmet Oz, Vice-Chair and Professor of Surgery at Columbia University and host of the popular daytime television show Dr. Oz, these extreme operations are typically reserved for those who are at least 100 pounds overweight, those with a Body Max Index (BMI) of 40 or greater, or those with a BMI over 35 who are experiencing weight-related health issues like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, or sleep apnea.
After Rosie O’Donnell opened up to Go Red for Women attendees and revealed her secret surgery, spokesperson Cindi Berger shared with People Magazine that the surgery was “lifesaving” for O’Donnell. However, many health experts, like Oz, remind folks that the procedure is a “life-altering change” and one best discussed with a health professional.
By Katie Bloomstrom