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Though Uncommon, Some Gastric Bypass Patients Under 21

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Karen Borta-2013 Karen Borta
Karen is a veteran journalist who joined CBS 11 News in 1995. Prior to...
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ROWLETT (CBSDFW.COM) – American doctors have performed gastric surgeries for decades, and while the majority of patients tend to be older adults, a growing number are barely of legal drinking age.

Some are still in their teens.

To see Ryan Osborne jogging through his Rowlett neighborhood, you’d never guess how far he’s come.

But not too long ago, it would have been hard for him to have even walked that distance. That’s because before he had gastric surgery at the age of 22, Osborne weighed more than 350 pounds.

“Well, I was just thinking how young I am and how much life I have yet to live,” recalls Osborne. “Who I am now, and is that the person I want to be for the rest of my life?  And I was thinking of what I wanted life to be like in the future, and it kind of just happened.”

Osborne says he considered the risks associated with the major surgery, and the life-altering changes he’d have to make if he wanted it to work.

“You really have to change the way you live,” he says. “You can’t just have the surgery and expect that to be an automatic fix. It’s not a guarantee. There’s still a lot of hard work–dieting and exercise–that goes along with it as well.”

Texas Health Plano psychologist Max Nelson says that’s where a lot of patients fail –– especially the younger ones.

“Part of it, I think, stems from the magic pill belief system that there will be an easy, quick, fast, permanent way to deal with the issue of being obese and overweight,” says Nelson.

And perhaps because of America’s obesity epidemic, patients requesting gastric surgery are getting younger. But when it comes to this invasive surgery, how young is too young?

“There are studies out there that have patients as young as 12 years old undergoing weight loss surgery in certain circumstances,” says Dr. Joe Cribbins, director of the weight-loss surgery program at Texas Health Hospital in Plano.

But he acknowledges that young patients are rare. In fact, he says he’s only operated on a couple patients under the age of 18 during his entire career.

“Anyone under the age of about 18 or 19, you take on an individual basis,” says Dr. Cribbins.

And that seems to be the case across North Texas. Speaking with surgeons at several different centers, all agreed there is a line they rarely cross when it comes to age.

Doctors say the keys to a successful long-term outcome are physical and emotional maturity, and a strong support system among family and friends.  And when all of that comes together, the results can be wonderful.

“The emotional benefits of the surgery seem to be more dramatic in the younger population than in the older patients,” says Dr. Cribbins.

And Ryan Osborne seems to be living proof of that statement. At 150 pounds lighter, Osborne says there’s no question the surgery was the right choice for him.

“Well, obviously, physically I feel better; I look better,” he adds with a chuckle.  “But one of my biggest changes, too, has been mentally –– especially recently –– just the way that I look at life.  Every day I’m just a happier person.”

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