Alberta woman sheds nearly 200 pounds, not eligible for skin removal surgery coverage

Years ago, Georgina Biss avoided photos. In the pictures she would take, she would hide behind her kids. She also never knew how heavy she was, dodging every scale.

“I was unhappy and sad and I have four daughters. These little people are watching me and I want to be around to do things,” Biss said.

“That’s not a way to live.”

She attempted to get approved at a bariatric clinic, twice, but was denied because her weight wasn’t connected to health problems.

Georgina Biss. Courtesy: Georgina Biss

It took her almost four years, but she lost nearly 200 pounds and has been transformed.

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Exercise and diet helped her lose the weight but the stretched skin remains.

“I feel like I am wearing a skin suit that’s three times too big. I look like a melted candle,” Biss said.

Georgina shows her excess skin. Jill Croteau/Global News

She gets rashes and infections on her skin.

“It’s not only mental; it’s painful and it’s hard to do things. I have to tuck it in and wear compression shirts.”

The skin removal surgery costs anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000.

“It’s not that I need to have a perfect body, it’s to do the things I want to do and not be inhibited by that because I have worked so hard,” Biss said.

Georgina is desperate to have her excess skin removed. Jill Croteau/Global News

Alberta Health Services will only cover a basic skin removal on the front of her stomach.

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“I was told because of extent of the amount of weight lost, I won’t have a belly button and it will leave it everywhere else.

“What they are covering is barbaric and doesn’t fix the problem,” Biss said.

Georgina works out regularly at the Okotoks gym, Motion Fitness. Jill Croteau/Global News

“I am not a burden on the health care system. I have eliminated years of being a financial stress on them. All I am asking is for this one surgery.”

Friend Kathy Carter said she is in awe of Biss’ inspiring weight loss journey but has watched it come at a cost.

“It’s sad. She’s uncomfortable and she’s not confident and she’s in pain,” Carter said.

“You have this image of what it’s like after you lose weight and it would be so great but it’s almost worse.”

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Georgina and friend Kathy Carter. Jill Croteau/Global News

“I just want her to be happy and able to have confidence and not having this literally hanging over her all the time,” Carter said.

AHS officials provided a statement to Global News.

“Decisions regarding the acuity and necessity for surgery are based on patient condition and determined by the surgeon.

“Approval and coverage for skin removal surgery is not necessarily linked to approval and coverage for bariatric surgery. The surgeon will assess the need for skin removal surgery independently and determine the clinical urgency and need for surgery based on a number of factors.”

Dr. Earl Campbell. Jill Croteau/Global Calgary

Dr. Earl Campbell is a plastic surgeon and president of The Alberta Society of Plastic Surgeons. He said the criteria is restrictive, but justified.

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“They have a billing directive and they state clearly: operations for cosmetic reasons are not covered.”

“Even things such as physiological concerns, like a patient’s angst with respect to a body abnormality, is still not covered under Alberta health care insurance plan,” Dr. Campbell said.

“But they do give the discretion to surgeons to determine how much of this is function or more of an aesthetic concern.”

Biss says she’ll do what she can to save up for the surgery.

“I think I have to do it. I can’t live like this,” Biss said.

“We have four kids and the economy is not great. It’s not easy and that’s a decision that may take years to pay off.”

&© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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