Alexis Shapiro is gaining two pounds a week and she's now up to almost 200 pounds.
The 12-year-old girl from Cibolo, Texas, has become morbidly obese over the past three years after being diagnosed with a rare brain tumor that caused hypothalamic obesity. Recently, more than 1,200 people have donated more than $53,000 to fund a potentially life-saving operation that could prevent her from gaining any more weight, NBC News reports.
“Oh my!!! I can't believe this! We are so grateful. I am going to contact the hospital on Monday to find out if this will cover all the costs. Thank you to everyone who cares,” Shapiro’s mother, Jennifer, wrote on the gofundme.com page she started in July.
Shapiro’s rare brain tumor, called a craniopharyngioma, has caused several life-threatening conditions, including Type 2 diabetes – many of which can be controlled with replacement hormones and medication, her mother explains. But her rapid weight gain cannot be harnessed.
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“It is a beast and we have tried so hard to control it, but it has been found that no amount of diet or exercise will stop this obesity,” Jennifer Shapiro wrote. “Alexis has gained about 140 lbs. in not even 2 yrs. It has been heartbreaking for her and for us. She cannot do the things she used to love.”
TRICARE and Humana Military provide the family’s health insurance. While bariatric surgery is covered under the plans, it is approved only for patients over 18 years old. The family can appeal the policy, but Shapiro’s parents and doctors say the process will take too long.
Shapiro began to gain weight after doctors removed the benign brain tumor. The surgery damaged her hypothalamus and pituitary gland -- two organs that regulate energy balance, appetite and weight. In response, Shapiro developed hyperphagia and hypothalamic obesity, conditions where her body gains weight despite thinking it’s starving.
Doctors anticipate gastric bypass surgery could help Shapiro lose 20 percent to 30 percent of her body mass and reduce the number of false cravings she experiences, said Dr. Thomas H. Inge, an expert in pediatric obesity at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
Gastric bypass surgery is rarely performed in children due to the high risk of complications. But new research suggests that adolescents fare just as well as adults after having the surgery, with 5 percent to 7 percent of cases resulting in major complications.
The surgery may be Alexis’ best bet at leading a healthy life.
“It’s going to be a lot of hard work,” Jennifer Shapiro said. “We know that it’s not going to be 'Have the surgery and, yay, everything’s fixed.' But it’s a start.”