A nursing assistant died while undergoing stomach reduction surgery, and the hospital said Thursday it is suspending such operations while it investigates. Brett Davey, spokesman for Roger Williams Medical Center, would not say went wrong during the surgery or whether any doctors would be disciplined.

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Robert Mesa Jr., 27, who worked at the hospital, died Tuesday about a half-hour into the laparoscopic gastric bypass operation, Davey said.

It was the third death among the 340 gastric bypass procedures performed at the hospital over the past three years, chairman of surgery Paul Liu said.

Liu said the hospital will stop performing both open and laparoscopic procedures. The newer laparoscopic technique uses smaller incisions and leads to less scarring and quicker recovery.

He said the doctor who performed the surgery has not been suspended. He would not identify the doctor, but said he’s “very experienced.”

Last month, Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital stopped performing the laparoscopic procedure after a 38-year-old woman there died after the staple gun apparently misfired during the procedure.

“I think what’s happening is the fact that it’s become so visible with celebrities and others who have had it done ... the numbers who are having it done are going up dramatically, and I think the true risk of this procedure is becoming more known,” said Dr. Vincent Pera, director of the weight management program at Miriam Hospital in Providence.

Pera said the death rate for gastric bypass surgery is one in 200.

Gastric bypass surgery aids weight loss in a morbidly obese patient by shrinking the stomach from the size of a football to the size of an egg.

The smaller stomach pouch is created by stitching or stapling part of the stomach closed. A part of the small intestine is bypassed to reduce nutrient absorption, causing the patient to lose weight. Typically, patients lose 70 percent to 80 percent of their excess body weight in about a year.

But the surgery comes with risks, including postoperative complications that can include blood clots floating to the lungs or stomach juices leaking into the blood and causing infections.

Though the procedure is commonly known as stomach stapling, the hospital would not confirm whether staples were used during Messa’s procedure.

Davey said Messa underwent about three months of preparation for the surgery, including consulting with a cardiologist, psychiatrist and dietitian and attending a three-hour seminar on the risks and benefits of the procedure.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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