PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — After trying weight loss programs and exercise routines without any progress, 53-year-old IT specialist Sherry Vukman lost 50 pounds in 12 months. It wasn’t due to a pill, or surgery, but a balloon.

“I am probably a happier person. And I feel, I physically feel much better now that I have the weight off,” Sherry says.

She took part in a clinical trial involving weight loss balloons offered through the Allegheny Health Network.

Participants would swallow an undigestable, uninflated balloon pill. X-rays would check for correct placement in the stomach. Doctors would then attach a pump to the tubing to blow up the balloons.

Three balloons total, one at a time, over 12 weeks.

“Painless. Painless,” says Sherry, “I was worried in the beginning about the choking reflex, that I would, but that did not happen.”

She also met with a dietician every three weeks.

“If you told me how I would be at the end, where what I was eating, and how I was choosing what I was eating and what I was drinking, would all be drastically different, and I can live. It’s not like I did it just to go through the program, and now I’m back to my old lifestyle. No, I’ve learned better ways,” she says.

In a multicenter trial, involving 15 hospitals, doctors have been studying this approach over the last year and a half.

Locally, so far, 24 patients were enrolled. Half got the balloons, half got sugar balloons that simply dissolved. Of the study patients getting the actual balloons, who were around 200 pounds at the start, the average weight lost was 22 pounds — twice as much as the placebo group. One in four patients did not respond. One patient dropped out because she wanted to get pregnant.

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“This is not meant to replace bariatric surgery. It’s meant to target patients on the lower end of obesity,” says Dr. George Eid, a surgeon with the Allegheny Health Network. “Some of the people who did not do as well were higher BMI, were between that 35 to 40.”

From the start of the study, Sherry’s BMI has gone from 33 to 27 now, normal being 19 to 25, which is her goal.

“I’m not worried about being super thin or whatever,” she says, “But I would like to be normal.”

Now that the trial’s done, what’s next for these balloons? They’re under review by the FDA. It’s possible by next year we’ll have some word about approval.

Dr. Maria Simbra