The California Cure Toga Party: Dr. Edward H. Phillips

The diet as a tool for weight loss may soon become a relic. Last year, for the over 220,000 obese Americans that have thrown up their hands at Jenny Craig and other options, bariatric surgery has been the weight-loss method of choice. But Dr. Edward H. Phillips, who holds the Karl Storz Endowed Chair in Minimally Invasive Surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, thinks we can do better.

He has developed a new option that requires no abdominal incisions and less healing time. For some of the 15 million people in the U.S. who are morbidly obese, this procedure may offer a less invasive, faster-healing option to help them avoid the myriad health issues—including diabetes, heart disease and stroke—that their weight can cause or worsen.

“Here’s what I tell a new patient: The body is like an accountant—it keeps track of every calorie consumed and every calorie burned, and there is no Enron accounting—you can’t fool it.” Seeing patients whose lives are consumed and ruled by their obesity led Dr. Phillips to spend most of his life as a surgeon working to find less painful and less invasive ways to heal their bodies—and thereby their souls.

Bariatric surgery typically involves making the stomach smaller so it can hold less food and/or redirect food to part of the small intestines. In Phillips’ procedure, called transoral gastroplasty, or Toga, surgeons enter the stomach through the mouth and esophagus, applying two to three rows of staples to the stomach, creating a smaller pouch.

Since there are no incisions in the abdominal wall, patients heal faster. They’re often able to return to normal activity the next day, as opposed to five days for bariatric surgery. While Phillips can’t talk about results of Toga’s current clinical trials, he says recent research in Europe found that patients lost 45 percent of excess body fat over the course of one year.

The result? Here’s one of Dr. Phillip’s patients: “Doc,” he said, crying, “you can’t imagine how my life has changed. When people would see me coming, they would look down— never looking me in the eyes. Now, in almost an instant, I am a different man. My whole life has changed.” Those are the sweetest words any surgeon can hear. —Gwen Moran