Obesity is increasingly prevalent in Canada and surgery is publicly-funded when it poses a health problem.

Obesity is increasingly prevalent in Canada and surgery is publicly-funded when it poses a health problem.
Photo Credit: CBC

Private weight loss surgery was expensive, caused complications

One in four Canadians are obese and many seek surgery to help them lose weight. Where health is an issue, bariatric surgery is offered through the publicly-funded health care system. But the waits used to be long so some people turned to private clinics.

A Slimband ad shows an employee’s photo from before and after she underwent gastric band surgery.
A Slimband ad shows an employee’s photo from before and after she underwent gastric band surgery. © Slimband website

‘A really hard sell’

One such clinic in Toronto called Slimband used slick ads to market a surgical procedure to place a gastric band on the stomach. It offered testimonials from people who had had the surgery. “Slimband is no longer accepting new patients, but at its height of popularity…there was really a hard sell. Bold claims were made without people necessarily understanding all the complications before they signed on the dotted line,” said CBC reporter Asha Tomlinson who investsigated the issue for the consumer program, Marketplace.

CBC reporter Asha Tomlinson investigated gastric band surgery and spoke with people who suffered complications from the procedure.
CBC reporter Asha Tomlinson investigated gastric band surgery and spoke with people who suffered complications from the procedure. © CBC

Slimband’s procedure was quick and expensive, costing almost $16,000. That is about 32 per cent of the average salary in Canada. Clients were offered high-interest loans though a financing company linked to the clinic called Credit Medical. This was not the only clinic offering gastric band surgery.

Some complications required surgery

Upon further inquiry, Tomlinson found that because of many complications with gastric bands, 2,363 of them have been surgically removed in public hospitals across Canada, excluding the province of Quebec, since 2010. Each surgery to remove the bands costs between $3,000 and $14,000 which means they cost the taxpayer-funded health care system up to $33 million.

The complications included erosion, bleeding, slippage and blockages. “The reality set in…for many Canadians post-surgery,” said Tomlinson. “They would end up losing weight initially, regaining it back, most of it, months later. And then there are the complications…we’re talking about major shooting pain one side or in the gut. (In) more extreme cases, some people had trouble eating solid food, even swallowing water. They end up in the public system because they ultimately have to get the bands removed in local hospitals.”

Many complaints

Marketplace found almost 100 complaints about Slimband from clients on websites such as RateMDs, Yelp and the Better Business Bureau. It says it found two recurrent themes: “the gastric band failed, and clients felt they received no support from Slimband or its medical director and chief surgeon, Dr. Patrick Yau.”

It adds that at least four official complaints were made about Yau to the independent organization, the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons. Yau’s medical license was suspended for three months for professional misconduct by the college in April 2017. He has now returned to performing general surgery at the Scarborough Hospital.

Doctor recommends different surgery in public hospitals

 Dr. David Urbach says he removes one to two gastric bands per month at the publicly-funded Women’s College Hospital in Toronto.
Dr. David Urbach says he removes one to two gastric bands per month at the publicly-funded Women’s College Hospital in Toronto. © Michael Wong/Women’s College Hospital

Marketplace spoke with Dr. David Urbach who said he removes one to two gastric bands per month at the public Women’s College Hospital in Toronto. He said  gastric bands are no longer used and the gold standard of bariatric surgery is the gastric bypass.  One has to meet strict criteria to be eligible for this procedure in a public hospital, but he said those who qualify are well informed beforehand and carefully followed post-operatively.

Watch Marketplace report tonight

Tomlinson also spoke with people who underwent gastric band surgery. Her full report will be posted live on the CBC’s Marketplace website tonight and will be available internationally on YouTube.

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7 comments on “Private weight loss surgery was expensive, caused complications
  1. Avatar Emile Pellerin says:

    Had my surgery Jan of 2011. It took me a while to get use to eating with the band. Once i figured it out, it worked like they said it would. I was very happy down to size 40 waist pants, Belly all gone!! But the buggers went out of business. Now here it is 2020 and I’ve gained most of my weight back. Because I have no place to go to get a other injection. I don’t even know if my band is still good.. HELP ANYONE!!!


  2. Avatar Joey says:

    I had my surgery on 2014. Ever since I cannot eat well. Everyday vomit… my stomach acids make me sick. I can’t handle this kind of pain so I decide to removed this band on 2017. But my pain still haven’t gone.. my stomach acids is really bad, cant really eat anything at night. Sometime, I will vomit if I ate… Once I ate at night my stomach acids comes and it’s really bad. It’s make me can’t sleep at night, whole night will be stomach acids,stomach gas.I try to sit up
    to sleep and see if it’s help. It’s doesn’t even help at all, the acids make my throat burning even I ate early it’s still not help. Once the acids comes it won’t stop until next day. Once it’s come I can’t sleep, can’t eat and even I can’t sit up to sleep. Whole night will be walking around the house with my stomach acids, stomach has, heart burn and throat burn. It’s just like going into hell in whole night. I can’t stand it. …. I stop paying the monthly payment after I removed the band… I think that band not even help at all and it’s cost me more money to removed the band. It there anything I can do to get some justice? Please let me know.

  3. Avatar VALERIE CLARK says:

    I had my Slimband surgery in July of 2016. Shortly after I was banded the company shut down and I have no one to call or ask questions. No other doctors will do any fills for me or even discuss my band. I live in Owen Sound, Ontario and there is no one here available.

  4. Avatar Lise Scull says:

    Hi my name is Lise Scull. I received the surgery from slomband on Sept 4 2014, and I have to I have had nothing but problems ever since. Cant keep certain food down. I lost more weight prior to surgery than after the surgery. The food that does go down well id junk food, weird but true. Is there anything I can do to get some justice. Please let me know

  5. Avatar Maria says:

    I was one of the patients who had the operation in 2014 and removed in 2017…I had stomach obstruction. Ended up in the hospital many times with complications. I lost 90 pounds originally and have put on half. I to a single mom and in debt to my family. It really was a horrible experience. I had nobody to turn to and am distraught.

    • Avatar Shasta M Collins says:

      Hi. I was a Slimband patient too and have lived with complications for 3 years now also. I have been contacted by a law firm in Ontario that is putting together a lawsuit against Slimband if they can get enough people involved. If you are interested in more information, please contact the law firm asap. The contact info is:
      Joel McCoy

      Bergmanis, Preyra, LLP

      Tel: 416 256 1700 x 236
      Fax. 416 256 1707

      Email: jmccoy@bplawyers.ca

      Web: http://www.bplawyers.ca