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Weight loss surgeries turn health around
Surgeon among boat people as 16-year-old
Bariatric Surgeon Dr. Dat Nguyen, M.D. - photo by GLENN KAHL

Bariatric surgeon Dr. Dat Nguyen chose medicine when he realized the positive differences he could make in people’s prompting him to sidestep his college degree in electrical engineering.

The physician and his family were among the “boat people” who had fled war-torn Vietnam looking for a better life. He was only 16 and he had eight siblings.

After having been sponsored by a Lutheran Church congregation in Minnetonka, Minnesota and completing college to be an engineer, he was saddened by the death of a 22-yer-old uncle in Cam Ranh Bay back in his native country.  The relatively young man had a simple infection that proved fatal because of the lack of a physician near his home.    That made a lasting impression on the recent graduate, prompting him to become a doctor. He is the first in his family to practice medicine.

Bariatric surgery wasn’t his first choice as a specialty, but he witnessed the many ailments that could be corrected as a result of the stomach surgery.

“I am very excited about the bariatric weight loss surgery program here in Manteca, because most of my patients (in Pleasanton) have come from this area making it more accessible to them and more convenient because of their local family doctor or internist,” he said.

He his first weight loss surgery at a Kaiser Hospital where he honed his skills.  Dr. Nguyen said that after operating on the first few patients, and seeing the results several months later, he witnessed how their overall health had improved immeasurably.

He explained that those vivid contrasts in his patients’ health conditions changed his mind about bariatric surgery and he became a believer in just how greatly it helped the overweight individuals’ health and eliminated the need for many of the medications they had been taking.

“At that time there was no magic bullet to treat sleep apnea, pain of arthritis, heart burn reflux and asthma.  It became so apparent to me that this surgery is very important for morbidly obese patient.  Overweight is typically defined at 100 pounds or more with a body mass index (BMI) greater than 40,” he said.

Severely obese is described as 75 pounds overweight with a BMI between 35 and 40. 

The BMI is used to determine the size of the body in contrast to the size of a person’s frame, he noted.

Men, women view excessive weight differently

Dr. Nguyen added that women are more anxious to realize the benefits of bariatric surgery while men tend not to seek help because they think their size is normal for them.  He said the resolution of most medical problems that have been caused by weight can be expected within a year and a half of the surgery.  The required hospital stay at Doctors Hospital of Manteca is two to three days.  Initial recovery is usually from four to six weeks after the hour to hour and a half long arthroscopic surgery. 

Candidates for the bariatric surgery must meet the Institute of Health guidelines created in 1991 with a review of their medical condition and their body mass index.

They are also required to go through consultations with a psychologist for behavior or mental health issues.  The patients also need to discuss healthy eating habits with a dietitian and determine they have no significant illnesses such as heart trouble that would preclude a safe surgery, Dr. Nguyen said.

The surgery candidates are also asked to attend classes to learn to eat healthy after surgery and are shown how to cope with their new lifestyle.  The classes will eventually be available on line, he noted.

Three types of surgery

There are three main types of the surgery including the gastric bypass, gastric band and the vertical sleeve gastrectomy.

With the gastric bypass the surgeon creates a stomach pouch to restrict food intake and reroutes the incoming food creating a short bypass to decrease absorption.

The gastric band is placed on the upper part of the stomach to create a pouch to limit food intake – a procedure that has been done for some 10 years.   With the sleeve band procedure most of the stomach is trimmed and then stapled to restrict food intake – a procedure that has been performed for the last five to seven years. 

Dr. Nguyen said the sleeve procedure is less complicated than the gastric bypass, but noted that it gives better results than the band surgery.

Dr. Nguyen remembers well when a doctor put him on a payment plan when he was in college with walking pneumonia.  He said he had only $75 in his pocket and had to buy books with the money.

The Bariatric surgeon has followed that doctor’s lead from his college days and has since offered discounts and payment plans to those who are down on their luck and can’t afford his medical care.

His hobbies involve drawing and making miniature toys as well as cabinet work.  The doctor and his wife have three children Anthony, 18, Anna, 16 and Angela 10.

Coordinator of his program at Doctors Hospital is nurse Janie Santos who can be reached at 239-8300 or at