Part of the community, part of the team, part of the family
November 15 2018

For the past two years, Dr. Emmanuel Agaba has provided the Mid-Ohio Valley with world class bariatric care. His dedication to his patients and his staff has helped him gain recognition both nationally and locally. He’s traveled all around the world and has helped change many patients’ lives. Here are his favorite memories, thoughts and a few fun facts about Dr. Agaba.

Q: What’s a fun fact about you? A: I like to watch wrestling.

Q: Why did you decide to specialize in bariatric medicine?
A: If you take a walk downtown anywhere in any major city in the U.S. and wait for about ten minutes and just look at the population today, it’s becoming more and more a major health issue that almost every third person you see is morbidly obese. Not just morbidly obese, they have all kinds of medical problems from diabetes to heart disease to acid reflux to arthritis, and it’s a time bomb. So I decided to go into this to see how we can prevent some of these problems.

Q: How long have you been practicing bariatric medicine?
A: 6 years

Q: What’s your favorite aspect about this specialization?
A: The most interesting part of it is when you see a patient with life threatening conditions, like diabetes for example, completely resolved. Patients who have severe hypertension and are on six or seven medications and still have blood pressure not well controlled, and now that the weight is off they’re off their medication. There’s a lady in the cafeteria here and every day when I go to buy food she sees me and tells me ‘I’ve been off my medication since February.’ Since she had her surgery in December she’s now off her medication. She’s no longer diabetic, no sleep apnea, no hypertension and her high cholesterol is gone. Every time you see her and she tells you this it’s very reassuring.

Q: What’s a typical day at work for you?
A: My day usually starts at about 7 a.m., most of the day I’m in the operating room. A typical day, and a good day, is a day in the OR.

Q: What surprised you the most about your medical career?
A: The fact that it’s still a bit of a tug-of-war in 2016 that we still have people in America, the richest country in the world, that same America that sent mankind to the moon, that we’re still battling with trying to convince insurance companies that obesity is truly a disease. The surgery is expensive, but if you look at the long term benefits you spend $45,000 for the operation and most of the patients are in their late 30s to late 40s, so if you look at the long-term cost of diabetes, hypertension, cholesterol, possible heart attack, possible kidney disease for example patients with diabetes a large number of patients will end up requiring an amputation be it toe amputation or below the knee amputation. We look at the cost of $45,000 in the patient who is in their late 30s with an average lifespan of about another 40 or 50 years to live that’s a really great savings, and I think it’s disappointing every day that we still have to battle the insurance companies that wouldn’t want to pay.

Q: What’s one of your favorite memories as a bariatric physician?
A: My favorite memory was when we had a patient who was morbidly obese, when I was in New York, who needed a heart transplant, and the cardiac surgeon wouldn’t touch her because she was severely obese and we were able to offer her bariatric surgery. She lost some weight and went to have her heart transplant, and now she’s a good citizen doing everything that you and I take for granted. I still get Christmas cards from her every year.

Q: What’s the most common misconception regarding bariatric programs?
A: One of the most common misconceptions is that most people believe that surgery alone is the treatment. The surgery is just a tool that will enable you to pursue your objective, which is to ultimately achieve a healthy lifestyle. Bariatric surgery offers you the ability to achieve these goals, but you have to do the other component i.e. you have to eat well-portioned meals, diet and exercise; most people believe you’ll have the surgery and that’s it, which is not true. It’s a life long journey.

Q: Where do you see your specialty in five years?
A: I hope it (gets better with the insurance companies) because in 2010 the American Medical Association officially said that obesity is a disease, and it’s been classified so rightly, so in five years I hope that we will be able to get a drug that ultimately will take care of this problem. Because I think obesity is a big problem, not just an American problem, it’s a worldwide problem. Where I come from in Nigeria it used to be that obesity is a sign of affluence. Now even the people who can’t afford two meals in a day, even they are morbidly obese, so it is a global problem.

Q: What sets you apart from other bariatric physicians?
A: I try to see life through my patients’ point of view rather than just see my patient as a patient and take care of them and off they go. I try to make myself as accessible to them as I can.

Q: You recently became a MBSAQIP (Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Accreditation and Quality Improvement Program) verified surgeon, our only in the region. Can you explain this certification and what it means for our program?
A: It used to be Center of Excellence, and what that means is that the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Society is the governing body for all kind of bariatric procedures in the country. They have a set of guidelines and you have to meet every one of those stringent guidelines they lay down. Then you also make sure that all your results, everything you do, be it treatment of bariatric patients or doing the bariatric surgery itself, is reported to the national registry. So, in other words, whatever you do you have to be very transparent. What that also means is that all the surgeons are verified and properly trained, all the participants in the facility are all well trained and we have to provide the best standard of care as recommended by the society.

Q: In your own words, what makes our Signature Care for Bariatrics program unique?
A: Our bariatric program is unique in the sense that even though we're a smaller health system in a smaller community, we still provide world class service that is needed, and we don’t just see the patient as a patient. Surprisingly what is unique about this place is when I was in New York City you’d be fortunate if you actually took care of two family members, here you won’t just have two family members you’ll have the great-grandfather, the grandfather, the father and the son. You’ll have the fourth and even the fifth generation, which means everybody you see here or take care of they’re connected in some way, and that’s very unique because that means everybody you see here you either see the patient when you go grocery shopping, you see them when you go to church, so you provide the best care you can.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A: We want to provide the best work, and we want to provide world class service here. People should actually remember that everyone here is a part of the community, a part of the city. We have to do everything the same with every member of the community and we’re part of the team. It’s one big family and we care a lot about what happens to our neighbor, our church members, our friends and family members.