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IRAQ: Weight-loss surgery works for one Iraqi

February 18, 2009 |  7:53 am

Big_guy_blog2_4 Last year, we told the story of Haider Kareem Said, a young Iraqi man whose weight had ballooned to more than 495 pounds, attached precariously to his 5-foot-4 frame. Said was desperate to lose the extra pounds, but like many people, he had failed repeatedly at diets.

Years spent virtually locked in his house because of Baghdad's sectarian war only made matters worse. He spent much of his time sitting in front of the TV eating too much. In August, Said took what some would consider a desperate measure: He had weight-loss surgery. Said had a band surgically wrapped around his stomach by the one Baghdad surgeon who performs the operation, forcing him to eat a fraction of what he had been consuming.

Six months later, we visited Said at his home in eastern Baghdad to see how he's doing.

Big_guy_blog_2 The results are impressive. Said remains a big, big man, but he has lost 95 pounds and now weighs 390 pounds.  Instead of eating all day, he eats just once a day. His weight loss has been so dramatic that his surgeon tightened the band around his stomach to further restrict his food intake.

"I get up at 9 a.m. every day. I go without food until 3 p.m., then I prepare a meal for myself: I eat only chicken breast because it is fat-free," said Said, whose increased energy was evident. Instead of remaining seated, he stood up and walked easily.

Said admitted to cravings but is following his doctor's orders to avoid rice and bread -- staples of the Iraqi diet. "I miss it so much," he said. "But I'm able to control myself. Even with one meal a day, I don't get really hungry. Before this surgery, this would have been impossible for me."

The fall of Saddam Hussein and the ensuing war had huge effects on Iraqis' health. Hussein's ouster opened the door to satellite TV and the Internet, which were illegal under the former dictator. This created a couch-potato culture that had not existed before. With increased access to universally popular TV shows -- everything from "Lost" to "Dr. Phil" can be caught on the scores of satellite channels available here -- once-active Iraqis got lazy. Gyms, tennis clubs, swimming pools and other recreational outlets closed because of the war. With violence down, that's finally changing, as we noted in this recent body-building story.

As for Said, he's determined to lose at least another 132 pounds. "I still cannot feel it. I am not satisfied yet," he said of his current weight loss. Never a fan of exercise, Said now is taking long walks that last more than 40 minutes. Once he is at his desired weight, he hopes to get married and face another operation: to remove excess skin.

Said's uncle, Jabar Kareem, said the transformation has been remarkable. "Before the operation, the most distance he would walk is from his bedroom to the kitchen and back. But thank God he can leave the house every day now," he said.

-- Caesar Ahmad and Tina Susman in Baghdad

Top photo: Haider Kareem Said sits with his brother in August on the day of his weight-loss surgery.

Credit: Saad Khalaf

Bottom photo: Said six months later and 95 pounds lighter, doing something he rarely did: walking around outside his house.

Credit: Saad Khalaf