“I wanted to lose weight but I nearly died” - Norfolk woman hours from death after gastric band complication
© Archant Norfolk 2013
Norfolk campaigner Jo Rust feels lucky to be alive for 2014 after she nearly died when a freak occurrence with a gastric band meant she needed an emergency operation to have 90pc of her stomach removed. ANDREW PAPWORTH spoke to her about how she cheated death – and what others experiencing weight problems can learn from her experience.
“I was determined to make it work”
The complications Jo Rust faced were a world away from what she expected when she made a “huge, momentous decision” to have the £8,000 gastric band fitted in 2008 to help reduce her weight from 20 stone.
“I had been overweight for a long time,” she explained.“Being overweight isn’t bad – it’s just that when it starts to impact on the things you want to be able to do, it’s time to do something about it.”
In Mrs Rust’s case, that was leading a more active lifestyle and particularly taking responsibility within the trades council, which she had just helped to set up. “I found that carrying around that much in weight meant I couldn’t do all the things I wanted to do because I got tired – even with little things like going up the stairs,” she said.
She had tried diets but said: “If you’ve been overweight for a long time, those habits are ingrained. Sometimes you need a physical barrier to break that habit. For me, not being physically able to eat as much was what I needed. That’s when I decided to have a gastric band.”
The cost of having the band fitted was not money the family could easily afford, but Mrs Rust said: “That was part of the impetus as well.
“Having spent so much money, I was determined to make it work.”
Mrs Rust lost eight stone in one year and, despite her original target to be a size 16, kept shedding the pounds.
She found she was most comfortable weighing between 11½ and 12 stone, although she actually weighs 10½ stone at the moment and has even dropped to below 10 stone.
She said: “If there was a defining moment, it was when I led a rally of 200 people down King’s Lynn High Street on November 30, 2011.
“I never thought it could be possible for me to do that.”
As surgeons began a life-or-death operation to remove 90pc of Jo Rust’s stomach following a major complication with her gastric band, her family was told to prepare for the worst.
The 47-year-old, of Gayton Road, King’s Lynn, was taken to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital after collapsing on a work visit to Dereham on January 29 last year.
At first, nurses thought she had eaten more than her stomach could take, as a gastric band restricts the amount of food someone can consume.
What is on offer
Weight-loss surgery is only available on the NHS to treat those with potentially life-threatening obesity, although it is available privately for patients with less severe health problems.
Typically, the NHS says that obesity could become life-threatening when a person’s Body Mass Index is above 40, as the ideal range is between 18 and 30.
However, it advises those looking to lose weight to try other methods first. The two most widely used types of weight-loss surgery are gastric band surgery – where a band is used to reduce the size of the stomach so a smaller amount of food is required to fill the stomach – and gastric bypass, where the digestive system is re-routed past most of the stomach. Once again, this means it takes less for people to feel full.
Surgery can result in dramatic weight loss but those who have it will need to stick to a carefully-controlled diet and exercise regime afterwards to avoid putting weight back on.
However, it later transpired the consequences were much worse.
The consultant in charge of what he thought would be a fairly straightforward operation to remove her band saw that the mother-of-two’s stomach had become caught in it and turned gangrenous.
He had to operate immediately as she was hours from death – but Mrs Rust, secretary of the King’s Lynn and District Trades Council, said the worst impact was not on her, but her family.
“It was much worse for them,” she said. “I didn’t know until I woke up afterwards that I had nearly died. They lived through that awful experience. My husband was by himself when he was told to be prepared for the worst.”
Thankfully, the operation was a success and Mrs Rust is today back to her busy life of organising campaigns and street demonstrations alongside work, regular netball training sessions and an exercise regime. However, it has dramatically changed how she lives.
Because so much of her stomach was removed, she no longer feels hunger and needs an alarm to remind her when to eat. She also has to eat small, more regular meals.
Perhaps understandably, Mrs Rust said she “wouldn’t be so quick to recommend surgery” today. She added: “The fact this can happen means I could hardly endorse this type of surgery in the way I did previously.” However, she stressed: “What happened to me was a freak occurrence.”
Do you have a view about weight- loss surgery? Write, giving your full contact details, to: The Letters Editor, EDP, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email EDPLetters@archant.co.uk