Weight loss surgery linked to lower death rate

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LOS ANGELES (CBS) New research shows losing a moderate amount of weight could reverse the damaging effects of obesity on the heart. Meet a patient who had weight loss surgery and is making major lifestyle changes.

Carolyn Aukerman says she feels better now than she has in years.

"I wasn't able to walk very far, I got tired very easily. I had sleep apnea, diabetes," Aukerman said.

The 57-year-old had weight loss surgery two years ago. She was more than 300 pounds at her heaviest.

"I thought, 'I am not going to be around to see my kids. I want to be around to see my grandchildren grow up,'" Aukerman said emotionally.

Previous studies show weight loss surgery patients almost immediately see their diabetes reversed after the procedure but Dr. Steven Nissen and researchers at the Cleveland Clinic wanted to see if the effects of obesity on heart health could also be reversed.

"What we found was astonishing," Nissen said. "These people had fewer heart attacks and strokes. And there was a 41 percent reduction in the rate of mortality or death."

The new study published in JAMA compares patients who have weight loss surgery with patients who receive usual medical care.

"It suggests that, you know, moderate weight loss when done in the correct fashion can reverse many of the consequences of obesity and diabetes," Nissen said.

Aukerman has lost 130 pounds and no longer has diabetes.

"Bariatric surgery isn't a cure. It's not, it's a tool because I could gain the weight back... if I don't watch what I eat," Aukerman said. "I am more active now, I can do things, I can walk, I can enjoy time with my family."

And with her strong family history of heart disease, she says the study is more reassurance she made the right decision.