She was a big baby.
In the picture it is 1953 and her older sister Shirley is straining to hold a beaming Ruth Mathews up for the camera.
As the years unfold in her photo album, Mathews’ size grows progressively larger. Then alarming.
In a 2004 shot, at age 51, Mathews is a morbidly obese diabetic and a mostly miserable 354 pounds.
Then comes the great reversal. By dint of diet, exercise and the will to eschew pizza in particular, the 5-foot-6 school bus driver shrinks to 169 pounds.
But like the growing number of morbidly obese people now losing enormous amounts of weight, mostly through stomach stapling surgeries, Mathews had a problem. As all that fat disappeared, the skin that held it all did not.
“I had all this skin that would flop around when I walked,” says Mathews, the mother of two grown children. “You sort of tuck it into your pants, but it’s still there. Imagine losing all the weight and having to be stuck with all that skin.”
These remnants of obesity — known medically as cutis pleonasmus — have sent “tummy tuck” surgeries skyrocketing.
“It’s been a six-fold increase in the past five years,” Dr. Michael Kreidstein says of the number he now performs at The Scarborough Hospital.
The Canadian Society of Plastic Surgeons does not keep statistics on the type and number of operations its 400 members perform, but society executive director Karyn Wagner says U.S. data likely reflects the Canadian situation.
In the U.S., tummy tucks increased by 137 per cent between 2000 and 2007, when the number reached 148,000. Wagner concludes about 15,000 were performed in this country that year.
Bariatric surgeries (known as gastric bypasses or stomach stapling), which segment or bypass large portions of the stomach, are growing as a mainstream tool to reverse morbid obesity. Last year, a major study pegged these operations as a potential cure for weight-related Type 2 diabetes.
During the procedure, the excess skin is lifted from underlying muscle tissue — on rare occasions with the help of a mini-crane that hangs over the operating table.
OHIP pays for about 500 bariatric surgeries (known as gastric bypasses or stomach stapling) procedures each year, although the province’s Medical Advisory Secretariat has said that number will have to increase by some 3,000 to keep up with demand.