EASO Patient Council Spotlight- Barbara Andersen of Austria

Barbara Andersen Landscape

Barbara, welcome to the Patient Council. It was great to spend some time with you in Porto at ECO2017. Please tell us a bit about yourself:

My name is Barbara Andersen, I am mother of two grown-up children (23 and 19 years old) and I am in a committed relationship.

As a clinical psychologist, I have worked in several fields of psychology –- at the moment I have a leading role in an institute which coordinates challenges concerning drug and alcohol abuse or addiction in Vienna. I also work with patients who have obesity and want to reduce their weight. In most cases they have already decided to undertake bariatric surgery – sometimes they aren’t sure precisely what they want to do and I help them explore options and select the best option for them. This might be a surgery but could also be learning to accept themselves as they are today; the intervention depends on the needs of each person. Beside all this I lead a monthly support group for people who have obesity or are not content with their weight (with or without surgery).

Barbara, please tell us about your county and where you live:

I live in “the heart of Europe” in wonderful Austria, famous for beautiful landscapes and cities like Salzburg and Vienna, musicians like Mozart, Haydn, Strauss or Falco and artists like Klimt, Schiele and Hundertwasser,. For me Friedensreich Hunderwasser is of importance because I live very close to the  “Hundertwasserhaus” in the third district of the Austrian Capitol Vienna, the city deemed to have the highest quality of life worldwide. An interesting fact about our capitol is that wine grows here, and is bottled and sold in typical Viennese restaurants the so called “Heurigen”.

Our readers will enjoy hearing about your favourite activities, hobbies and interests:

In my rare leisure time I like to meet friends, and enjoy conversation and  activities with my partner and children (important!), go out to cafes and restaurants. I like dancing, cooking, visiting museums and reading thrillers and crime novels. I love nature and animals, relaxing, swimming…….

Thank you for sharing your experience of obesity:

My personal story

During childhood my body was “normal with a little bit more.” My mother struggled to loose excess weight and several times she attempted to diet. As a child, eating was very important for me – first of all I liked the taste of food (preferring sweets and carbohydrates) and second, it was the only time of the day, where the family was sitting round the table, with my parents talking about their day and work and I was feeling good. My parents both went to work all day long so having meals together was important and enjoyable for me. When I became a teenager, I believed I was too “heavy,” especially because I compared myself at that time my best girl-friend. My girlfriend was a professional model (she did this job for quite a long time) and she never had problems with her weight; on the contrary, she sometimes had problems because she was too thin. So I started my first diet when I was about 12 years old – it worked – but of course the kilos I had lost came back and in the end I weighed more than I did before the diet. This happened several times, each time my weight was higher and higher, the yo-yo syndrome.

I tried every diet, ate nothing at all for weeks… I have also experienced bulimia.  I went to psychotherapy for a long time – but nothing helped, my weight increased and increased. When I was 35 and the mother of two little children, I had problems being active enough for them, because doing things my children enjoyed (cycling, swimming, walking in the park….) became very difficult for me – I had pain in my legs, I had problems with breathing…..so I was really desperate. Then I heard about bariatric surgery and I thought to myself, oh people who do this are completely crazy – “they destroy their healthy body” (I didn’t think about the fact that I was no longer healthy at that moment). But I became interested in this treatment and became informed about the different kinds of surgery and visited support groups and talks about this theme.

I remember one special evening where after a presentation from University Doscnet  Dr. Gerhard Prager I became convinced in having the surgery. In his speech he told us that only about 2 to 5 percent of people with obesity are able to reduce overweight permanently. This was the moment when I recognized that I am not one of the 2 to 5 percent – I am one of the 95 percent who may not be able to provide this damned “good performance.” This was the moment, in 2005 when I decided to have a bariatric surgery. I had a gastric bypass (RNY) and it worked perfectly. I lost all of my excess weight and I felt pretty good for several years.

About seven years after the surgery my weight started climbing up again, very slowly, but bit by bit. The reason for this may have been that the size of my meals increased a little bit  – not very much, but it was enough that my weight started to increase. Unfortunately I couldn`t stop it at all and so I had a surgery and now I have a banded gastric bypass since 2014. I lost weight and went back to my normal weight which is now stable.

Please share your reflections on ECO2017:

I really enjoyed the congress – it was full of interesting content and was a wonderful opportunity for networking. Crucially, there was the opportunity to have face to face contact with all the national representatives of the Patient Council with a chance to learn about their work and experiences and the options and opportunities around obesity that exist in other countries.

Barbara, how you currently advocate for patients and how do you hope to advocate for patients in the future:

My role as a patient representative is a new one, I joined this year (2017).  There is a lot to learn and to do – to build up a community, to connect with hospitals, doctors, health system and to inform patients about all options around bariatric surgery and obesity, to creating a platform or develop a social media group and so on ….but this is still a work in progress! And I have a dream: my dream is the concept of a comprehensive local obesity center with many options for supporting patients in one center, with  physical training, psychotherapy, medical competence, nutrition expertise……

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