Starving and Obese, Girl Fights for Needed Surgery

After insurer turns her down, Alexis Shapiro's family turns to the masses

By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff

Posted Dec 29, 2013 8:48 AM CST

(Newser) – Alexis Shapiro is 12 years old, 4-foot-7, and 198 pounds—a weight that is growing at a rate of at least two pounds a week. It's due to a very rare condition known as hypothalamic obesity, which itself was born from another medical issue. As NBC News reports, the Texas girl underwent surgery two years ago to remove a rare but benign brain tumor; but its removal damaged her hypothalamus, and the result is that Alexis constantly feels hungry even as her weight balloons, and even as she's kept on a strict diet. And the one thing doctors believe can help her—a $50,000 gastric bypass surgery that will reduce her stomach size and would hopefully alter her brain's reaction to fullness—was this month denied by the family's insurance company (TRICARE, which serves US military members).

The insurer believes Alexis is too young for the surgery, stating the patient must either be 18 or have reached a point of full bone growth. TRICARE says the Shapiros can appeal, but they may not have to: The family has started a GoFundMe campaign that, as of this writing, has raised $51,000. In the meantime, Alexis' situation worsens: She now has type 2 diabetes; she was recently hospitalized with a kidney infection; and Alexis has told her psychologist "she wants to die," says mom Jenny Shapiro. She tells NBC, "These kids will literally eat themselves to death. That’s what I’m scared of." But this morning, Shapiro sounded much more optimistic on the GoFundMe page, writing, "Oh my!!! I can't believe this! We are so grateful. I am going to contact the hospital on Monday. To find out if this will cover all the costs." Meanwhile, a 2-year-old Saudi boy recently became the youngest ever to undergo bariatric surgery.

Alexis Shapiro.   (GoFundMe)
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