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Health Sciences North celebrates northeast’s first bariatric surgery

Sudbury hospital was also named Bariatric Centre of Excellence in September 2021

A team of surgeons from Sudbury's Health Sciences North has completed the first bariatric surgery ever performed in Northeastern Ontario.

The North has higher-than-average rates of obesity. Bariatric surgery, which is also known as weight-loss surgery, is an option for people who have not been able to lose weight by more traditional means, such as dieting and exercise.

The surgery involves changes to a person's digestive system to help them lose weight, which can limit how much a person can eat. HSN said the surgery has been shown to be an effective intervention, helping people lose weight and producing significant weight loss.

HSN said more than 5,000 patients from across Northeastern Ontario were referred for assessment between 2011 and 2019, with more than 1,900 patients being referred to Southern Ontario for bariatric procedures.

“We are greatly reducing the need for people to travel hundreds of kilometers south for a lifesaving surgery,” said Dr. Noémie-Rose Harvey, a general surgeon with HSN who was recruited to Sudbury in 2020 and led the first surgery. 

“This is a significant clinical achievement for our hospital and also for the patients of this region who have some of the highest obesity rates in Canada.”

Obesity is classified as a chronic disease, said HSN in a news release. It is known to be a contributing factor to many other acute and chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, arthritis, some cancers and depression.

In 2014, Public Health Ontario reported that 31 per cent of people in Northeastern Ontario were living with obesity compared with a 20-per-cent rate at the national level.

Mark Hartman, HSN’s Senior Vice President of Patient Experience, said the ability to perform the surgery in Sudbury will be a significant improvement for patients who were faced with long periods of travel.

“These patients have previously been coming from as far away as Hearst, Timmins or Sault Ste Marie. So they could be travelling anywhere from 6 to 12 hours and over hundreds of kilometers for this life-saving procedure,” said Hartman. 

“Introducing bariatric surgery at HSN will increase access for our patients, decrease wait times for patients, while reducing costs associated with patients travelling outside of the region for quality care," Hartman added. 

The hospital said it expects 75 bariatric surgeries to be completed in the next few months as HSN works to build surgical capacity and increase the number of bariatric surgeries performed each year going forward.