Every step was painful for Michelle Ballard, a mother of three young children, before she underwent life-saving surgery in 2017.
"I had eight Fibroid tumors," Ballard told FOX13. "I had three cysts on my ovaries. That was my second bout with cervical cancer."
The mother of three needed a hysterectomy, but several doctors near her home in Tipton County refused to help her.
"I was in so much pain and agony," Ballard said. "They kept turning me down, telling me nothing could be done."
Like thousands of women in the Mid-South, Ballard is considered medically obese. Overweight women are considered high-risk for surgery, because of their increased chance for complications.
Eventually, a doctor referred Ballard to Dr. Sanjeev Kumar, a gynecological oncologist at Baptist Memorial Hospital who specializes in treating overweight women.
His surgical team in Memphis is providing life-saving medical care to women like Ballard who are often turned away by doctors because of their weight.
"There's a lot of tissue in the belly, which does not have very many blood vessels," Dr. Kumar explaining why overweight women are considered high-risk. "Any time we cut through that tissue, it heels poorly."
The Mid-South is considered the epicenter of the obesity epidemic in the U.S, according to Becker's Hospital Review.
Jackson, Mississippi is ranked as the most obese city in the United States, followed by Memphis and Little Rock, Arkansas.
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Kumar said 80 percent of women in Shelby County are considered high-risk for a hysterectomy because of their weight.
"A lot of patients that we see have been turned away by other physicians who are not as comfortable with minimally invasive surgery in obese body weight patients," Kumar said.
Hesitation to operate on overweight patients leaves thousands of women without life-saving care.
"All you can think about is cancer," Ballard said. "Cancer? I'm going to die. I had to do something to get that cancer out."
Rather than creating a large incision, Kumar and his team developed the skill set to operate on obese women using robotic surgery that's minimally invasive.
"This is the basic concept of a keyhole surgery,' Kumar said, pointing to a photo of the technology used to complete the procedure.
The laparoscopic procedure creates keyhole-sized incisions, which heel faster.
"In most circumstance they're able to leave the hospital the same day or the next day," Kumar added.
Ballard told FOX13 she was overweight before she developed pelvic cancer and cysts. However, living in so much pain made it difficult to move, which caused more weight gain.
Since the surgery last year, Ballard said she has lost about 50 pounds, and she regained the life her illness tried to take away.
"My daughter is like, 'Yes, Mommy! We can do everything,'" Ballard said. "I can walk. I can dance. I'm holding my children. It's great."
Cox Media Group