500-pound teen undergoes stomach surgery

by: Jeff Dore Updated:

ATLANTA,None - Three days before Christmas, 16-year-old Matthew King lost 85 percent of his stomach. It will change his life and, a medical team expects, could very well save it.


Matthew crushed the scales at nearly 500 pounds. The morbid obesity launched his blood pressure to dangerous heights and his body lost its ability to control carbohydrates, pushing him into type 2 Diabetes. At night, the weight made him regularly stop breathing from potentially harmful apnea.


Matthew was way beyond advice to eat less and exercise more. His appetite was huge, driving him to consume the amounts of food each day that an average person might not crave in a week.


His weight made him a candidate for gastric sleeve resection; removing most of his stomach. It is extreme surgery, especially for a child.


“But the kids are there,” said Dr. Stephanie Walsh, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Medical Director of Wellness. “They’re in that situation. So how are we going to help them get out of it?”


The answer is not just cutting them apart. First, candidates must enroll in Children’s Healthcare’s Health for Life Clinic. They and their families, learn to change attitudes and behaviors. It’s not easy. They work on it a minimum of six months.


Matthew and his family spent nine months on the program. If they don’t become true believers in a new lifestyle, the surgery is wasted. So they do that first and Matthew lost 30 pounds before the operation.


Matthew’s surgeon, Dr. Mark Wulcan, explained “part of the stomach that we took out makes a hormone that actually makes you feel hungry. So (the surgery) is also going to work because it’ll take away some of that hunger.”  


We got exclusive access to the operating room during the surgery and photojournalist Jason Solowski shot video as the surgical team made very small incisions in Matthew’s abdomen through which they would do all their work.


I don’t do well around needles and scalpels, so after five minute of snapping iPhone pictures for this web story, when the operating room started feeling oppressively hot…to me, but not to anyone else…I left the room and waited in the hall. I recovered quickly. So should Matthew.


After surgery on December 22, the doctor expects he will be home in time for Christmas. CHOA will follow up with Matthew to help him stick with his lifestyle changes. They include eating healthy foods in healthy amounts, and sticking with exercise that he enjoys, a key to success for anyone trying to stick with a fitness program.