Twelve-year-old Texas native Alexis Shapiro has been gaining 2 pounds a week, every week, since a brain surgery left her with a rare disorder known as hypothalamic obesity.
According to NBC News, Alexis now weighs nearly 200 pounds. Doctors have told her family the only thing that might help her is gastric bypass surgery. But the family's insurance comes courtesy of the United States military, which believes Alexis is too young to undergo the operation. TRICARE and Humana military denied the family's request for the operation, explaining that gastric bypass is only covered under their plans if the patient is 18 or has achieved full bone growth.
While the family contemplates an expensive appeal, they've found hope for Alexis from the kindness of the Internet. A "gofundme" campaign to help pay for Alexis' surgery has exceeded its goal of $50,000, with over $71,000 raised at the time of this writing.
The family was deeply touched by the outpouring of support. Alexis' mother, Jenny Shapiro, told NBC News: "“My goodness! It’s crazy. Alexis really likes it. I think she feels like people aren’t looking at her anymore and people are rooting for her.”
Alexis was 9 when she first developed a rare benign brain tumor called a "craniopharyngioma." Such tumors are found in no more than one in every million children each year. Surgery successfully removed the tumor, but left damage to her hypothalamus and pituitary gland, organs that regulate energy balance, appetite and weight.
Since then, Alexis feels that she is constantly starving, even while her body hyper-actively absorbs weight. Her parents have had to take drastic measures to keep Alexis from gaining weight even more rapidly, including padlocking the kitchen cupboards, and limiting her to 900 calories a day.
Doctors believe gastric bypass surgery could help Alexis lose 20 to 30 percent of her body mass, and, more critically, may curb the misfire between her brain and stomach that induces her sense of starvation.
The Shapiros have raised more than enough to cover Alexis' surgery. It remains unclear whether TRICARE will cover the followup care that she may subsequently require.
“It’s going to be a lot of hard work,” Jenny Shapiro told NBC, “We know that it’s not going to be 'Have the surgery and, yay, everything’s fixed.' But it’s a start.”