By Peter A. Steele
When administrators at Central Maine Medical Center decided to create the Maine’s premier weight-loss program, they searched the for the best baritatric suregeon in the country. They chose Jamie Loggins, M.D.
A former U.S. Army surgeon who is an expert at robotic and laparoscopic surgery, Dr. Loggins is a graduate of Illinois Wesleyan University who earned his medical degree at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago. He had been working on a fellowship in minimally invasive and robotic surgery at University of California at Davis in Sacramento, Calif. when he got the call from CMMC.
Although he had never considered coming to Maine, Dr. Loggins jumped at the tremendous opportunity to create a bariatric program from the ground up. He hired the staff, designed the facilities and purchased state-of-the-art equipment. “I would do a surgery, then put on a hard hat and go supervise the construction,” he said.
He credits his decision to do bariatric surgery to a “phenomenal mentor” he had during his fellowship in Sacramento. His mentor told him that if he could do bariatric surgery laparoscopically, he could do any surgery.
Dr. Loggins, 46, also has another talent. He became somewhat of a local celebrity when he first moved to Auburn after he turned his home and large yard on Vista Drive into an elaborate Christmas display with thousands of lights set to music. Traffic backed up so much every night with families eager to see the display that some neighbors were displeased. But he was determined to share the magic of Christmas with the city.
Although some surgeons suffer from what is called the “God complex,” an arrogance and clinical coldness with their patients, Dr. Loggins is soft-spoken and genuinely compassionate. He immediately puts his patients at ease as they are considering this life-changing procedure. Governor Paul R. LePage and his wife, First Lady Ann LePage were highly complementary about Dr. Loggins and his program.
“I was very comfortable with him,” said the First Lady. “I would absolutely recommend it.”
Somewhat baffled the media seemed fixated on how Governor LePage’s procedure was paid for (his health insurance covered it), Dr. Loggins said the story should be nothing but positive. The Governor and the First Lady are an inspiration to anyone who has struggled for years to fight obesity, he said.
Having been obese as a young man, Dr. Loggins understands on a deeply personal level the struggles that come with being overweight. In college, “I was a 350-pound defensive lineman,” he said. That may have been an advantage in sports, but not so much for other activities.
Since he could not afford to go to the prestigious Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago, Dr. Loggins joined the military to pay his way through school. He first tried to join the Air Force, but because of his large stature, he failed to meet their height-weight ratio. The Army used a different formula, so he was allowed to join. He soon realized he needed to lose some weight if he was going to get through the Army’s physical training.
“I lost 75 pounds in my senior year of college,” he said, noting that keeping the weight off is still a challenge. “I fight with it every day.”
He practices what he preaches. Having competed in triathlons, Dr. Loggins knows firsthand how important it is to maintain a healthy lifestyle on a daily basis.
While bariatric procedures, or weight-loss surgery, help obese patients with weight loss, appetite control and long-term dietary modifications, it’s not a panacea, nor is it a quick fix. It’s a long-term process that takes months—or even up to a year—of dedication and medical evaluations to prepare for the surgery, then a lifetime commitment of regular exercise, healthy living and dietary changes.
Once considered an option only for people hundreds of pounds overweight, bariatric surgery is now recognized as a life-saving option for America’s obesity epidemic. The surgeries virtually eliminate high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, sleep apnea, liver disease, cancer and other risk factors, called “co-morbidities,” that are often caused by obesity.
In 2016, Maine had an obesity rate of 30 percent, putting it 24th in the nation. In 2000, the obesity rate was about 20 percent, and in 1990, it was 10 percent. While Maine’s obesity rate equals the national average, its population is the heaviest in New England. New Hampshire is right behind Maine in its obesity rate.
Many people suffer from feelings of failure, shame or embarrassment because they cannot lose weight and keep it off. They don’t realize severe obesity is a serious disease—it can shave 10 to 15 years off a person’s life. Even primary care physicians are often reluctant to bring up bariatric surgery with their obese patients, for fear of offending them.
“If you had cancer or diabetes, you wouldn’t feel that way,” Dr. Loggins said. “If you had a blocked artery, you wouldn’t feel that way. We shouldn’t be afraid to talk about obesity, and we shouldn’t be afraid to treat it.”
Ten percent of the $250 billion spent on health care each year is a direct result of obesity. Obesity-related factors result in 300,000 to 400,000 deaths a year in this country. “If you take all the people who die from breast cancer and all who die of colon cancer, it equals 90,000,” Dr. Loggins said. “Severe obesity kills three times more people, but no one thinks twice about having surgery for breast cancer or colon cancer.”
Part of the problem is the medical profession has always treated obese people with a one-size-fits-all approach. “We always talk about calories in/calories out,” said Dr. Loggins. “But 1,000 calories for one person is not the same as 1,000 calories for another person” because their metabolisms are different.”
“There’s often a belief that obese people are lazy or gluttonous, but sometimes a person with a BMI of 45 is eating salad all day,” Dr. Loggins said. Genetics also plays a role.
Thousands of years ago, humans had to chase and hunt down their food, then they might not eat for three days, creating efficient metabolisms. “Now we don’t need to work or hunt for our food. We are surrounded by energy-dense calories all around us, and they are cheap, too,” said Dr. Loggins. “We can eat three days’ worth of calories in one meal.”
Peter A. Steele is the communications director for the Office of Governor Paul R. LePage. He and his wife, Laurie, are founders and owners of Twin City TIMES.