Carnie Wilson on Oprah
An article by Sue Widemark

Most of us know Carnie Wilson (daughter of Brian Wilson of "Beach Boys" fame) as the lovely icon of fat acceptance who was the guest speaker at the Million Pounds March one year.

And as many of us know, Carnie in July 1999, decided to get her digestive system disabled in gastric bypass Weight Loss Surgery. The clinic doing the surgery advertised that it was going to be on the Internet but those who jammed the wires for a glimpse of Carnie's insides, were given a few photos of a "sample surgery" (not Carnie's) and a lot of infomercial type advertisement.

Not surprising since Carnie's surgery was a part of a million dollar ad campaign launched by an alliance between the Vista Technologies (manufacturers of laparoscopic instruments) and the Alvarado Clinic.

Carnie has come full circle now. She's lost 160 some lbs and can wear a size 8-10. She has been featured in several magazines, a walking advertisement for WLS (surgeons all over the country say that after the appearance of a Carnie article, their phones ring off the hook).

But how IS Carnie after this surgery? She appeared on Oprah in November of 2000 - the show was re-run earlier this week.

I have watched Carnie for years as a vivaceous, joyful upbeat person with a hearty (very distinctive) laugh - a person who is quite mouthy and likely to interrupt the interviewer, a person who can say four letter words on the air if she feels the urge and a person who launches into an imitation of a famous individual at the bat of an eye.

But this Carnie that I have known for years seems to have disappeared. The Carnie who appeared on Oprah was sober and quiet. She talked incessantly about what food she eats and how it's a daily struggle. "It's SO HARD, " she said emphatically, "Food is SO GOOD!!!!" She stated several times that she was scared into the surgery because she thought she would die soon but that the surgery required will power on a daily basis. She described checking into a hotel, going to the bar and holding a candy bar in her hand, one simple pleasure which was no longer available to her, and cussing at this candy bar as if it were an enemy. "You have to get angry with the food," she commented.

Gone were the hearty laugh, and the joyful character I had known and loved for years. And a film Oprah showed, in which Carnie's sister, Wendy, was interviewed was somewhat revealing about Carnie's decision to have the surgery. Wendy told Carnie and the audience that she had been so worried when Carnie "ballooned" out during their days together as "Wilson-Phillips" and how she finally gotten the courage to talk to Carnie and tell her she had to do SOMETHING and how she was so glad that Carnie had had the surgery and had done so well. Carnie, in watching the film for the first time, broke down and cried.

And for the usually pert, joyful Carnie, it was suprising that this was not the only time she cried on the show... she was actually close to tears several times.

Aside from the physical dangers Carnie faces with the surgery which include liver failure, kidney failure and a shortened lifespan (surgeons are very evasive about the lifespan after surgery and there are few patients around who are more than 15 years post op), it becomes evident that the wonderful, after surgery, quality of life promised by the surgeons, may not materialize at all. Carnie did not resemble someone having a wonderful quality of life. But she did remind me of someone...

Cyclist, Lance Armstrong was an arrogant, cocky young man when he first participated in the "Tour De France". But when he won it two years in a row, he was quiet and thoughtful... had lost all vestiges of his former cockiness. What happened to him? Cancer. A castrophic event.

My sense is that Carnie is also suffering this catastrophic event syndrome from this surgery which in effect, destroyed the most important organ system in her body.

But the Alvarado Clinic went to the bank. Although they did not experience the increase in surgeries that Vista announced in early 2000 (in a press release, Vista claimed that Alvarado went from doing 9 surgeries a week to 25 surgeries a week), Alvarado DID increase their case load from 9 per week to 11-12 per week.

On a national average though, whereas a few years ago, 20,000 of these surgeries were done per year, the estimate is that in 2001, they will do some 45,000 or more of WLS surgeries.

Large people going to the morgue, the surgeons going to the bank... is this the American dream or the American nightmare?

article by Sue Widemark

sources: Carnie on the Oprah show
"Self Magazine", April 2001, "Risky surgery..."

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