Meet The Doctor Behind 'My 600-Lb' Life: Who Is Dr. Nowzaradan AKA Dr. Now?

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Meet The Doctor Behind 'My 600-Lb' Life: Who Is Dr. Nowzaradan AKA Dr. Now?
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The patients on the TLC show My 600-lb Life have usually run out of options for weight loss. The people featured on the long-running reality series are super-obese, often weighing in at over 600 lbs and their health is generally precarious. Many of the people are barely mobile, due to the limitations their weight places on their bodies and they say they are in constant pain. They are reliant on friends and family to help them with the basic functions of living. 

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One of their last options for losing weight is weight-loss surgery but even that is out of reach for most people at the weight levels of the patients on this show. Many hospitals don't have the equipment necessary to treat people over 450 lbs. That's where Dr. Nowzaradan comes in.

The Houston-area surgeon specializes in weight loss surgery and is one of the few doctors in the world who can operate on people above 600 lbs. The Iranian immigrant pioneered the kind of minimally-invasive procedures he does on the show, where he reduces the size of a patient's stomach in order to limit their food consumption and help them to lose weight. 

But how he become a reality weight-loss surgeon in the first place? Who is Dr. Nowzaradan AKA Dr. Now? Read on for all the details. 

1. Who is Dr. Nowzaradan AKA Dr. Now?

Nowzaradan was born in Tehran, Iran in 1944. He went to medical school at the University of Tehran, graduated in 1970 but went to the United States for further training.  He graduated from the medical Orientation Program and St. Louis University in Missouri in 1971 then completed his surgical internship at St. Johns Hospital in Detroit. Initially, he specialized in general surgery and cardiac surgery. He was so skilled as a young heart surgeon that he attracted the attention of Dr. Denton Cooley, who pioneered artificial heart implantation. Cooley was so impressed with Nowzaradn's skills that he invited him to come to the Texas Heart Institute for a fellowship in 1976. 

The bulk of his career has been as a general surgeon and he's considered a pioneer of minimally-invasive surgical techniques. He still sees patients for general procedures such as laparoscopic appendectomies and gallbladder removals. He started doing weight-loss surgery in the 1980s and has continued on that track ever since. 

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2. The TV show is a family affair.

Dr. Now's work with extremely heavy patients inspired a filmmaker to follow him as he attempted to help the world's heaviest woman. But not just any filmmaker: it was the doctor's own son Jonathan who put together the first documentary in which Nowzaradan appeared. The film was called Half Ton Mum: World's Heaviest Woman and featured Austin resident Renee Williams who weighed 841 pounds at the time of filming. The father and son teamed up to both help her and tell her story in 2011. Williams received the surgery that she hoped would turn her life around but sadly it didn't have the outcome she had been hoping for. Williams passed away only two weeks after her operation. "The way they described it was a race of the clock," Jonathan Nowzaradan says. "Even though she had gastric bypass, a heart's pumping for a body that big. If she'd had the surgery earlier, possibly she could have made it." 

3. The first film let to the creation of My 600-Lb Life.

After the success of that early collaboration, Jonathan Nowzradan suggested making a series about the journeys of weight-loss surgery patients. His father's practice was unusual in that he treated the most extreme cases of obesity. "My father said, 'Who needs medical attention more than the patients who are high-risk? We turn away people who need medical attention the most,'" he recalled in talking about the show. At that time, he hoped to use his production company, Megalomedia, to share inspiring stories like the ones he saw in his father' s office.  "It's fine to make some money," he said, "but media can be used for so much more, to communicate a lot of good things, to encourage, to inspire." 

Some patients have incredible success on the show.

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4. Weight loss surgery doesn't always work.

One thing that comes as a surprise to people on the show is that weight loss surgery isn't a slam dunk procedure. While some patients walk in thinking they'll get an operation and then become effortlessly lighter, Nowzradan says that's not even close to how it really works. “People come looking for a single solution to their problem, and sometimes the answer is not what they want to hear,” he says. “They think surgery is the solution for everything. And it’s not going to change people’s behavior toward food.”

Dr. Nowzaradan usually requires patients to lose weight on their own before he approves them for surgery and he is notoriously direct about the way he talks to patients about their eating habits, especially when they're telling him one story but the scale is saying something different. “It’s a daily challenge to work with some patients that can be self-destructive,” he says. “My job is not to get aggravated but to find a way to motivate them to work hard to get to their goals. There are times where I think it’s necessary for some tough love and I have to be stern with them, so I show some of my concern and frustration.”

Even with tough love, the success rate even with weight loss surgery is very low. In 2016, Nowzaradan estimated that only 5% of participants in the show maintain weight loss. He suspects that the metabolic changes related to the surgery wear off after time, as do behavioral changes, and patients begin to gain weight again after a few years. 

Dr. Now speaks about weight loss. 

5. Dr. Now has been sued multiple times.

It's not unusual for doctors to be hit with lawsuits; the American Medical Association estimates that 1 in 3 doctors will be sued before they are 55 and half of doctors will be sued if they continue to practice after age 55. We don't have any research on how often famous TV doctors get sued but it stands to reason that they might be more susceptible to lawsuits. That's certainly true for Dr. Nowzaradan. He has been sued four times since My 600 Lb Life premiered in 2011. In 2012, Nowzaradan was sued for leaving a piece of tubing in a patient resulting in a perforated colon. Nowzaradan denied he had been the one to leave the implement in place and the plaintiff dropped the suit. He was also sued that same year over the death of a patient following a weight loss procedure; the patient's spouse says the doctor misdiagnosed the severity of her husband's condition leading to his death. That suit was ultimately dropped as well. In 2017, he was sued over a skin surgery procedure that the patient says left her with a deformed abdomen but that plaintiff dropped her suit in 2018. There is also an ongoing suit from 2017 related to a different case where medical equipment was left in a patient's body. 

6. Now his son's company is being sued as well.

Even for patients who have success after the surgery, then can find that weight loss alone doesn't solve all their problems. That was the case in LB Bonner who appeared on the show in 2018. Bonner lost about 400 lbs after doing the show but his mental health never improved. He committed suicide last year. Now his family is suing Megalomedia, saying that the production company was negligent in how they treated Bonner. They're seeking a monetary award but they say they also want to change how reality shows deal with people who have significant emotional issues. 

The darker aspects of weight loss surgery and the fate of past participants in the show haven't stopped people from wanting to appear on the show. And Dr. Now says he does it to help people, even though he often doesn't make money on the procedures. Insurance companies don't reimburse well and the patients themselves are seldom wealthy. “Looking at the moral obligation that we’ve got, you see somebody who has no life who could have a life,” Nowzaradan says. “We don’t need to be rich. We do make a living, but we don’t need to worry about making a living out of every patient we see.”

My 600-lb Life is on TLC on Wednesday nights. 

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Rebekah Kuschmider has been writing about celebrities, pop culture, entertainment, and politics since 2010. She is the creator of the blog FeminXer and she is a cohost of the weekly podcast The More Perfect Union.

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