Barb Litt, 49, decided to have gastric band surgery at a private clinic in Toronto two years ago because she’d hit a low point in her life. She was depressed, unemployed and desperate to lose weight.
But rather than shedding a few pounds, the mother of two ended up gaining a $12,000 debt she can’t shake and a shooting pain in her side that ultimately required a second operation in hospital to remove the silicone band around her stomach that was supposed to shrink her appetite.
A new Marketplace investigation reveals Litt’s painful experience is hardly unique.
The clinic that performed Litt’s surgery, Slimband, no longer offers the procedure. Its former chief surgeon had his licence temporarily suspended by the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons last April, following years of complaints from clients.
But the financing company linked to the clinic, Credit Medical, is still busy collecting money from clients like Litt, who took out high-interest loans to pay for the procedure.
Because of the many complications with gastric bands, including erosion, bleeding, slippage and blockages, 2,363 of the devices have had to be surgically removed in public hospitals across Canada, excluding Quebec, since 2010, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information.
Each removal costs between $3,000 and $14,000, meaning taxpayers are on the hook for up to $33 million.
Loans for $16K surgery
Litt wishes she knew all that back in 2015, when a flashy Slimband commercial caught her eye.
‘I believed my life was going to change the day I had surgery.’
– Barb Litt
It featured former clients offering glowing testimonials.
“Say goodbye to plus sizes. Say goodbye to diet pills, fat burners and meal replacements,” one woman says. “Say goodbye to every diet under the sun.”
Another woman;s testimonial said of the procedure: “You’re in, you’re out and you’re shopping … what could be better?”
Litt decided to give Slimband a call. She spoke to a representative named Aviva, who claimed she wasn‘t just a Slimband employee but a former client who lost 79 pounds.
Aviva‘s before-and-after photos were posted on the clinic’s website.
“And she was like … ‘Oh yeah, it was the best thing I ever did.’ She got me all pumped up,” Litt said. “I believed my life was going to change the day I had surgery.”
The big catch was the cost: nearly $16,000. Litt didn’t have the money. But Slimband quickly arranged for a loan through Credit Medical, which loans money to Canadians for cosmetic and bariatric surgeries at private clinics and shares the same director as Slimband, Michael Scot-Smith.
Litt showed up for the day surgery at the Toronto clinic with her sisters. It takes about an hour to implant the band, which is placed around the top of the stomach.
After her surgery, Litt said she had very little post-op support from the clinic. There were no followup visits to discuss her health or weight-loss progress, she said.