Alexis Shapiro, 12, Faces a Change in Plans Midway Through Weight-Loss Surgery

03/21/2014 at 07:30 PM EDT

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Alexis and Jenny Shapiro

Gillian Laub



Alexis Shapiro was supposed to take her first steps towards relief on Friday.

For more than four years, Alexis, 12 years old and 208 lbs., has been battling hypothalamic obesity, a rare disorder that causes an insatiable appetite, slow metabolism and uncontrollable weight gain.

First diagnosed in 2009 after doctors removed a benign brain tumor that damaged the hypothalamus – the part of the brain that controls when a person feels hungry or full – Alexis has added 151 lbs. to her 4'7" frame in just two-and-a-half years.

After trying to unsuccessfully manage the disorder through diet and exercise, Alexis's family sought more help from doctors who advised gastric bypass surgery. The drastic operation could help trick Alexis's brain into thinking it's full for longer periods of time and lead to weight loss, according to Alexis's doctor, Thomas H. Inge, director of Surgical Weight Loss Program for Teens at Cincinnati Children's.

Following a kiss from her mom Jenny, Alexis went into the operating room on Friday. But complications arose mid-surgery, as revealed by the hospital's live tweets of the event. About 40 minutes after the surgery began, the hospital Tweeted, "Alexis Shapiro's liver is larger than surgical team anticipated, making necessary visualization difficult."

Soon it became clear that the doctors would have to change course. Gastric bypass was "no longer safest option" due to the size of her liver, according to the hospital. Instead doctors performed a gastric sleeve operation, which reduced the stomach to 25 percent of its original size.

"Sleeve gastrectomy still expected to help Alexis lose weight, which will also reduce liver size," the hospital reported in a Tweet.

By noon her surgery was complete and she was moved to the ICU for recovery and close metabolic monitoring.

But despite the minor setback, there is still hope: The hospital Tweeted that she will have gastric bypass "at a later date."

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