Seven family members have lifechanging bariatric surgery at St Vincent's Private Hospital Northside
For the first time in her life, 21 year old Anna-Rose McGinn recently went clothes shopping with friends at a ‘normal’ fashion outlet and didn’t feel self-conscious about her size and body shape!
The ‘retail therapy’ was to choose an outfit for an upcoming music festival near Townsville, where she’s moved to follow her passion of studying veterinary science.
“I was so happy to be able to go to a mainstream shop and find a nice, normal outfit after spending most of my teen years always feeling like I was the biggest person among my group of friends and not really enjoying typical teen activities like shopping with friends or playing sport,” says Anna-Rose.
The student last year became the seventh member of her family, over three generations, to undergo bariatric (weight loss) surgery with Dr Rob Finch of St Vincent's Private Hospital, Northside in Brisbane.
Anna-Rose before surgery
Anna-Rose hit her peak weight of 165kg last year before undergoing gastric bypass surgery in July 2022. The surgery has enabled her to lose 60kg.
She now sits around 105kg - but she’s not stopping there, with ambitions to hit what, Dr Finch says is an achievable target weight of around 75kg.
Her family – father Daniel, her grandparents, two aunts plus her nephew – have collectively shed hundreds of kilograms in weight since her father became the first to have surgery in 2016.
The fourth-year vet science student was encouraged by family to have gastric bypass surgery after her six relatives all had successful surgery which enabled them to lose significant weight (Daniel lost 100kg dropping from 185kg to 85kg) and to maintain the weight loss.
“For me, I have to say the surgery has been life-changing after I spent my adolescent years "yo-yo dieting" to try and keep my weight down, only to see the kilograms pile back on soon after,” she said.
"I just couldn’t have lost the amount of weight I have just with exercise and diet – and while we were always a family that ate bigger portions, it was mostly good food. Most of the family have had issues with weight so there’s no doubt we have genes which means we’re more inclined to gain weight and we struggle to lose it.
“Other family members said they wished they had surgery done 10 years ago – and I thought, ‘Well, why wait 10 years?’ Thankfully my aunt and grandmother helped pay for my health insurance and once the waiting period had passed, I went to see Dr Finch like all the other family members and he was fantastic."
The McGinns' Brisbane-based surgeon Dr Finch, said the gastric bypass operation, which normally lasted about an hour, involved stapling the top part of the stomach, which reduced its volume, and resulted in patients feeling full much sooner than before surgery.
The stomach pouch that is created is then connected directly to a mid-section of the small intestine, which means the gut requires fewer calories before the patient ‘feels full’.
Dr Finch said it was rare for gastric bypass patients to reach "a normal body weight", with most losing about 70 per cent of their excess fat within 12 months, staying in the "slightly overweight" range.
Dr Rob Finch
“Obesity is a complex chronic illness, driven by genes, hormones and psychological factors and emotions, as well as the environment. But there's definitely a genetic predisposition to obesity in many familes," Dr Finch said.
"Lots of people say that genes haven't changed in the last generation, but the rates of obesity have dramatically increased (around 67% of Australians aged over 18 are obese or overweight).
"But people who have genes that predispose them to obesity now live in an environment where we don't have to utilise as much energy on a daily basis. We're also existing in a calorie-rich environment.”
Dr Finch said bariatric surgery, as with all operations, was not without its complications.
"Two members of Anna-Rose’s family had complications, with one of them a rare complication,” he said.
“Because we're dividing and joining bits of bowel together, there's a small chance of that leaking but the benefits of gastric bypass surgery are well established.”
Dr Finch, and his colleagues at Total Upper GI at St Vincent’s Private Hospital Northside, are leading exponents of new and emerging bariatric procedures and techniques.
Dr Finch said gastric bypass surgery was one of the oldest and most established weight loss surgery, performed for around 50 years and is the most effective procedure for weight loss. The major innovation in recent years is that most surgery is done as minimally invasive with keyhole surgery.
Fifty-year old Daniel McGinn lost the most weight of any family member and says he doubts he’d still be alive if he didn’t lose the weight.
“I had previously had lap band surgery but I didn’t really lose any weight and I was starting to develop a range of health issues. I lived my life in pain especially with joint pain in my knees and ankles,” says Daniel.
The McGinns, as well as Daniel’s sister Amanda O’Reilly who lost around 30kg from her surgery three years ago, are keen to talk about their weight-loss stories to reduce the ‘stigma’ that many people associate with bariatric surgery.
“There’s no shame in improving the quality of your life and potentially it could be saving your life,” says Amanda who is a nurse in an intensive care ward in the Queensland public health system.
Daniel and Amanda post-surgery
Daniel, Amanda and Anna-Rose want to take the stigma out of having weight loss surgery – a stigma that they feel is fairly widespread through the community.
“It’s hard to shake the idea that I know that I had, along with others in the family and definitely outside the family, that having surgery is somehow ‘cheating’ or ‘taking the easy way out. For us, it was the only way,” says Anna-Rose.
“I thought maybe it was a ‘cop out’ because I thought maybe I should do it on my own through more exercise and better diet – but having family members blaze a trail before me helped me rationalise those thoughts.
“Now I want to be a real advocate for getting surgery done for people who are considering it, because it has changed my life for the better. I was also worried what friends might say but they have all been so supportive and telling me how amazing I look.”
Anna-Rose says she’s truly grateful for the support from her friends and family during her weight loss journey. She’s loving living her best life and says she has so much more confidence to get out and enjoy a wide variety of social and sporting activities with friends.
“I went to a country music festival last weekend and I’ve started running and plan to line up soon to do my first 5km Park Run. I go to the gym with friends and we also walk our dogs,” she says.
“It’s also helping me with my career - being a fourth year vet science student it now means if I’m in the paddock with the cows and they get a bit testy, I can move faster and get out of their way and jump the fence if I need to!”