Helen Morgan had a gastric op at a size 16 because diets were ‘too much effort.’ But despite almost dying after it went wrong, she says she’ll have another one if she gains weight again
Originally Published: 14 February 2012
Like many mums, Helen Morgan was keen to shed the pounds after having two children. But she was unable to stick to a diet and, despite only being a size 16 – one size up from the UK average – she opted for drastic weight-loss surgery.
Shockingly, although doctors said she could lose weight easily through diet and exercise, in 2005 she paid £8,000 for a gastric band.
Helen, 42, who’s 5ft 5 and was 14st 4lbs before the surgery, was thrilled to lose just under 4st in a year but, six years after the op, her band became dislodged and she was left battling for her life.
But, incredibly, she reveals she’ll have another gastric band if she gains weight again.
“Dieting takes far too much willpower, time and effort,” she says. “Having a gastric band was easier. Diets don’t fit in with my lifestyle – I like socialising and eating out. I guess I’m a bit lazy.”
'Dieting takes far too much willpower, time and effort'
Helen speaks out as shocking research reveals gastric bands are becoming a “quick fix” for people who want to lose weight. The number of gastric bands fitted privately has reportedly risen by 300 per cent in the last three years, prompting fears women are choosing major surgery over diet and exercise.
“I’d recommend it to anyone who doesn’t have the willpower to stick with a diet,” she says.
Helen, from Bridgend, Wales, admits she’s never been particularly overweight.
In 1991 she had her son Danny, now 23. She put on 2½st during the pregnancy, but lost the weight soon after. She says: “I split from Danny’s dad and I was a busy single mum, so I kept slim.”
Four years on, she married miner David Morgan and had her second son Joseph, now 16.
Before the pregnancy she was 9st and put on 2½st of baby weight. But running around after two boys meant the pounds fell off and she was soon back to 9st.
However, as she settled into married life, her weight began to creep up. Helen says: “David had a huge appetite and I’d eat big meals with him. We’d get Chinese and Indian takeaways and I loved steak, chips and cheesecake.”
By the time Helen turned 35, she was 14st and a size 16. But, although she was unhappy with her body, she struggled to stick to diets. She says: “I’d lose a few pounds, then pile it all back on.”
By January 2005, Helen had managed to lose 10lbs in five months with Slimming World, but she soon gained weight again.
She says: “I felt good when I lost the weight, but it seemed a lot of effort for a small result. I tried going to the gym, but I hated getting hot and sweaty.”
'Helen spent £8000 of her savings on the surgery'
In September 2005, aged 36, she saw a TV documentary about gastric bands and made the snap decision to have one. She says: “I thought it’d be a good way to stop worrying about dieting.”
Helen knew that, at 14st 4lbs, she was too slim to have the op done on the NHS, so she went for a private appointment.
Unsurprisingly, her surgeon was initially reluctant to operate.
Helen says: “The surgeon told me it’d be better to lose the weight naturally. But I told him I’d tried dieting and failed, so he relented. Luckily, I had a BMI of 33.7, which put me into the obese category.”
Helen spent £8,000 of her savings to have the surgery.
She says: “I was running a very successful window and blinds business, so I could afford it.”
She had the band fitted six weeks later in November 2005.
During the op, a small pouch was created at the top of the stomach. This restricts the amount of food eaten and tricks the brain into thinking it’s full. It took just 50 minutes and Helen was discharged the next day.
Helen says: “I woke up and hardly felt any discomfort. All I had was a tiny keyhole scar in the middle of my stomach.”
For the first month, Helen had to stick to a liquid diet and lost 10lbs. She says: “The relief of not feeling hungry was marvellous.”
“The gastric band meant I was satisfied with smaller portions. I could still eat many of the foods I wanted – though food like white bread, crisps and biscuits are hard to digest – just less of them,” she says. “My mates couldn’t believe how much weight I was losing and some even looked into having the procedure done.”
With her new figure came new confidence and Helen split from David two years after the op, following constant rows.
“The gastric band gave me a new lease of life,” she says. “David wanted quiet nights in but, with my new figure, I wanted to go out and enjoy life.”
'A searing pain went through my stomach and I knew something was terribly wrong'
A few months later, she met a new man, Geoff, 41, and they soon moved in together.
But two years on, in 2008, she developed problems with the band. Helen says: “There were days when it would tighten up and I couldn’t eat at all.”
Helen saw her doctor several times, but they couldn’t diagnose a problem. However, three years later, in May 2011, things took a dramatic turn for the worse.
Helen says: “I was in bed and turned to get a glass of water. A searing pain went through my stomach and I knew something was terribly wrong.”
Helen was rushed to hospital, where she had emergency surgery. She says: “When I came round, the consultant told me I’d dislodged the band and it had cut a 2cm hole in my stomach.
“If my digestive juices had seeped out, I would have died because they’re acidic and would have burned my insides. They’d had to remove the band and part of my stomach wall.”
Incredibly, despite coming close to death, Helen was more concerned about losing her band.
She says: “When I heard the band had been removed, I burst into tears. I knew I should have been grateful to be alive, but I was worried about gaining weight.”
Helen spent 11 days in hospital.
She says: “I had to have an oxygen mask to help me breathe. My sons were on holiday at the time – when they came back they were horrified I’d nearly died. But all I could think about was how I’d manage without the band.”
Nine months on, Helen is a curvy size 12 and 11½st, but says she doesn’t want to get any bigger. She reveals: “I’m happy at this size. I lost a lot of weight when I was unwell, but I looked ill, so I put some back on.”
Having had a gastric band seems to have shrunk her appetite, so she’s maintaining her weight. But, despite cheating death and losing part of her stomach, Helen, who’s now single, would consider surgery again if she gained weight.
She says: “My friends and family are horrified, but I’d definitely do it again. The last thing I want to do is put on weight again.”
By Alison Smith-Squire