Controversial weight-loss procedure offered at University of Colorado Hospital

AURORA, Colo. -- A new Food and Drug Administration-approved weight-loss procedure is available at University of Colorado Hospital.

It is controversial, and some might find it a little gross, but the doctor and patients say it works.

Dr. Shelby Sullivan is the director of the Gastroenterology Metabolic and Bariatric program at the hospital and is offering the AspireAssist weight-loss procedure.

She was involved with the clinical trials and believes this is a good option for patients wanting to lose 50 to 200 pounds of excess weight.

But she knows it’s controversial.

“Absolutely, it's controversial, and I understand that,” she said.

Sullivan said it basically works like a reverse feeding tube.

A port is placed on the skin that is secured to a tube inside the stomach. About 20 minutes after most meals, the patient opens the port, connects the tube and siphons about 30 percent of the undigested food from the stomach into a toilet.

The process takes about 10 minutes and is less invasive than bariatric surgery. It’s also reversible.

“It allows them to really be successful long term, especially when you have somebody that has a lot of weight to lose,” Sullivan said.

Eric Wilcoxon is a patient from Missouri who participated in the clinical trials with Sullivan and still uses AspireAssist.

He weighed 409 pounds and knew he wanted to take action. So he decided to try AspireAssist.

“It’s novel concept, but it works,” he said.

Wilcoxon said he lost about 75 pounds in the first six months and has lost about 150 pounds total.

He and Sullivan said there are lots of misconceptions they have to deal with. The biggest one is you can eat whatever you want, that you can splurge and purge.

But both say that is not the case.

“The only way that you are going to be able to get good aspiration is if you chew your food up into little teeny, tiny pieces. Really, they have to be less than 5 millimeters or less than a quarter of an inch in order to fit through the tube. And then you have to drink a lot of water with your meals,” Sullivan said.

She said mealtime behaviors change. Patients eat less and improve their food choices, and that accounts for about 50 percent of the weight loss.

She also said this is a low-risk therapy with no connection to eating disorders.

For Wilcoxon, it’s an option that has worked, and something he can use long term.

“The obesity will kill you, that’s all there is to it. If I can live longer because of this, then I’ll live with it, I mean it works,” he said.

AspireAssist is currently not covered by insurance.