COVID Pandemic Has Led To Surge In Bariatric Surgery

Obesity is a major risk factor for severe illness and death from COVID-19. Now, many people are turning to the operating room to take control of their weight. CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reports.

Video Transcript

- Obesity is a major risk factor for severe illness and death from COVID-19.

- Now, many people are turning to the OR to take control of their weight. And as CBS 2's Carolyn Gusoff reports, there's been a surge in bariatric surgery.

CAROLYN GUSOFF: As an ICU nurse at Plainview Hospital, Valerie Moskowitz worried she would not do well with COVID-19. She was 270 pounds, morbidly obese.

VALERIE MOSKOWITZ: These are the ones that were intubated, had life support.

CAROLYN GUSOFF: She contracted the virus, but when she returned to the front lines, she knew she had to make a change.

VALERIE MOSKOWITZ: If I go into the second surge, being like this, with obesity, I may not be fortunate next time.

- Step on the scale.

CAROLYN GUSOFF: That decision brought her to Northwell's bariatric surgery program at Syosset Hospital.

- 64 pounds, thereabouts. OK, since August.

CAROLYN GUSOFF: She opted for gastric sleeve surgery, and is shedding pounds. Doctors and insurance companies around the nation are seeing an uptick in bariatric procedures. They reduce the size of the stomach, and reduce the appetite.

PAMELA DREISIGER: There's a good at least 20% increase in consultations.

JONATHON KLONSKY: We see between 60% and 80% of excess body weight loss within 18 months. It really is a big step up in getting control again of somebody's medical problems.

CAROLYN GUSOFF: Obesity is a COVID comorbidity that causes other comorbidities, like high blood pressure, diabetes, respiratory issues.

VALERIE MOSKOWITZ: My cardiologist and my doctor are very happy.

CAROLYN GUSOFF: Moskowitz is now off her heart and diabetes meds.

- And your blood pressure is perfect.

CAROLYN GUSOFF: The surgery, though, comes with its own risks.

JONATHON KLONSKY: In the days of open operations, there is risks and complication rates as high as 20%.

CAROLYN GUSOFF: But Doctor Jonathan Klonsky says current laparoscopic procedures vastly reduce the risks.

JONATHON KLONSKY: Through four or five small incisions in the abdomen, no bigger than an inch, the operation can be as quick as 45 minutes to an hour.

CAROLYN GUSOFF: Weight loss surgery is not an easy way out. There are difficult eating restrictions before and after the procedure. It's also not cheap. But most of it is covered by insurance.

VALERIE MOSKOWITZ: I'm glad that I did not wait any longer.

CAROLYN GUSOFF: A nurse devoted to saving lives, hoping her story will save even more. In Syosset, Long Island, Carolyn Gusoff, CBS 2 News.

- A recent Cleveland Clinic study found patients who had previous bariatric surgery had fewer than half the hospital and ICU admissions as other obese people with COVID-19.