‘‘Bariatric surgery is not just an aesthetic procedure; it’s a medical treatment that can change people’s lives,” explained Dr. Eufrocino Martinez, a Filipino-American bariatric surgeon of 21 years. The Sunday Times Magazine had the good fortune of interviewing the successful doctor during his brief vacation in the Philippines from the United States, and uncovered many facts and misconceptions about a range of procedures that can save millions of lives.
He clarified that only the morbidly obese are qualified to undergo surgical procedures to lose weight, and not those who merely want to achieve a slimmer figure.
“Patients have to be 100 or more pounds overweight, and were not able to lose their excess pounds through diet and exercise,” he explained.
The surgeon is very eager to talk about his specialization to anyone who is interested to listen because he wants to spread the word that obesity should no longer be a fearsome condition because the world of medicine has developed a host of procedures that can effectively save lives.
A graduate of Medicine at the University of Santo Tomas in 1976, Dr. Martinez chose to pursue educational training in Weight-loss Surgery at the Martin Luther King-Charles R. Drew Los Angeles County Medical Center in the United States, in his quest to help change the lives of those suffering from obesity. Completing the specialization from 1979 to 1984, he was recognized as the batch’s Most Outstanding Resident and Chief Administrative Resident for his superb medical skills in and out of the operating room and his professionalism and devotion to the field.
In l984, Dr. Martinez decided to go into private practice for General Surgery, while
still serving as part-time attending surgeon at the same hospital where he trained.
Now considered an expert in Weight-loss surgery, Dr. Martinez has extensive experience in what is now considered to be the best solution for most morbidly obese patients, the laparoscopic bariatric surgery.
According to him, he was engrossed with this procedure from the very start, because not only is it an effective medical treatment, but more importantly, because bariatric surgery can also spark a life-saving lifestyle change among patients.
“Whenever I see patients lose their excess weight and consequently treated from such diseases like diabetes and hypertension, among others, I truly feel accomplished after the surgery,” Dr. Martinez told The Sunday Times Magazine.
He added that he has performed more than 1,000 bariatric surgeries and is also a teacher of other bariatric surgeons.
He also performs all his own endoscopies and colonoscopies and treats other gastrointestinal problems such as Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) with a new procedure called the EsophyX.
He is in continuous study in order to add more procedures to his practice thereby mastering new techniques when clinical trials are completed. He believes that by going an extra mile in learning, he will be able to help more and more in improving the quality of life of his patients.
Dr. Martinez is currently a member of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery and Society of Laparoscopic Surgeons, and also belongs to the International Federation for the Surgery of the Obese.
Surgical weight program
In 1998, Dr. Martinez partnered with fellow surgeon Jana Hanson to start New Reflections, a full-service weight-loss program based in Coast Plaza Doctors Hospital in Norwalk, California, a 20-minute drive from downtown Los Angeles.
According to Dr. Martinez, they operate on patients from across the United States and Canada, as well as the Philippines.
New Reflections offers patients several surgical options including Gastric Bypass or Roux-en-Y Gastric Bypass (open and laparoscopic), Gastroplasty or Vertical Ring Gastroplasty, and the Lap-Band procedure.
Gastric Bypass or Roux-en-Y Gastric Bypass (open and laparoscopic) is the most common type of weight-loss surgery at New Reflections. It restricts food intake by shrinking stomach capacity, as well as allow slightly less absorption of food since a portion of the stomach and small intestine are bypassed.
Meanwhile, Gastroplasty or Vertical Ring Gastroplasty restricts food intake by shrinking the stomach capacity and limiting the rate that food can enter the stomach. Unlike the Roux-en-Y Gastric Bypass, the small intestine is not rerouted in this procedure.
The Lap-Band procedure also restricts food intake by shrinking the stomach capacity. This is typically a same day or overnight-stay laparoscopic procedure that does not involve cutting, removing or rearranging the stomach or small intestine.
Dr. Martinez further informed The Sunday Times Magazine that they are now doing gastric sleeve and revisions for bariatric patients who have regained their weight following previous weight loss surgery. He also performs an endoscopic revisional procedure known as the StomaphyX for bariatric patients.
He is proud that most of their patients, following 18 to 24 months of surgery, lose between 50 to 80 percent of their excess weight.
“We love to see our patients succeed so we help them every step of the way,” Dr. Martinez added.
To help encourage a total lifestyle change, New Reflections offers support groups, medical screenings, insurance questions and paperwork, travel arrangements, and lifestyle planning post-surgery.
New Reflections has since established an extensive referral base where new patients coming for the first time feel confident they will be treated with dignity and compassion, for which Dr. Martinez is known.
He is able to do this as he maintains a program size that will allow him to manage his practice personally so that he can effectively help every patient under his care.
The New Reflections website is filled with success stories of Dr. Martinez’s patients.
Erin Young, for example, is 130 pounds lighter after nine years of undergoing the clinic’s program.
“I lost an even 100 pounds my first year,” wrote the Las Vegas native. She underwent gastric bypass surgery in March 2000, and when she checked into the hospital, she weighed 275 pounds. Two years later, she dropped to 145 pounds, the same weight she healthy maintains to this very day.
“Dr. Martinez took time to talk with me, explained my options and answered my questions. And so did Jana Hanson, and the rest of the New Reflection staff and everyone at Coast Plaza hospital,” shared Young, grateful for the solid support system she received.
Another success story comes from Richard Richard who lost 170 pounds within the first 14 months after surgery. He underwent gastric bypass surgery, and today, his blood pressure is normal, he is no longer borderline diabetic, and his joint pains have disappeared. He regained the energy to lead a normal life.
“I can bend over and touch my toes, I can mow the lawn, I can pull weeds, I can walk without getting out of breath, and do things I couldn’t do before. I’m in better condition now at age 55 than in my whole life,” he happily declared.
Bariatric surgery in the Philippines
Bariatric surgery has been introduced in the country only recently and this emerging procedure has gained a lot of interest and hope for many Filipinos.
Dr. Martinez believes that bariatric surgery will soon be a widely accepted medical treatment in the Philippines once the misconception is cleared that it is merely an aesthetic procedure.
He is currently being offered to practice in the country and is considering doing so in near future.
“I’m waiting for that time when I can help my own kababayan change their lifestyle through these life-changing procedures,” he related.
Vacationing in the Philippines once a year, Dr. Martinez observes that many Filipinos are now obese because of adopting unhealthy Western practices of eating and lifestyles. He hopes to be of help to these Filipinos not just in the operating room but through education to let them know that there is an effective solution to being overweight.
“Obesity is the number one reversible cause of death. Watching people grow healthier after surgery is the most gratifying aspect of my work. It’s wonderful and it can be done,” he concluded.