Beverly Lemperle is no longer tempted by a large bowl of strawberry ice cream. And Kathy Festin can take a piece of banana cream pie - or leave it.

Sweets literally don't sit well with the professional women, who are two of the 3,500 obese people who have undergone gastric bypass surgery at the hands of Dr. David K. Miller and Dr. Gerald N. Goodman, local general surgeons who have specialized in obesity surgery since 1979.The surgery is available to those ages 15 to 65 who are at least 100 pounds overweight. But according to the physicians, in private practice at Bryner Clinic, it's a last resort after conservative methods - namely dieting - "have been given a good, honest try."

This doesn't mean that Miller and Goodman are taking obesity lightly.

"Obesity is not a benign condition, but a killer," Goodman said. A few of the serious conditions associated with obesity include diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke and congestive heart failure.

"Morbid obesity is not only a medical disease, but is also a serious economic, social and psychologic disability. No one is more aware of this than the obese person," he said.

No one knows that better than 5-foot 6-inch Lemperle, director of communications at LDS Hospital, who two years ago weighted 295 pounds - pounds that were destroying her knees, ankles and self-confidence.

Not unlike Lemperle, Festin, a donor recruiter for IHC Blood Services at LDS Hospital, had battled the bulge her entire life. As an adult, she weighted 120 pounds too much.

After trying a variety of dieting methods - from hypnotism to starving - the women were hospitalized five days for gastric bypass surgery.

Goodman, chief of LDS Hospital's division of general surgery, said during surgery the stomach is stapled and divided to create a 2-ounce stomach pouch that can hold about a third of a cup from its normal capacity of about two quarts.

This creates a long-term, built-in gastric restriction to limit the amount of food that can be eaten.

The remaining stomach is stapled closed and heals permanently. The small bowel is then connected to the newly created stomach pouch. The point of connection is small so solid foods will stay in the stomach longer to give a full feeling.

"With this operation you have normal digestion, normal absorption, normal length of bowel," Goodman explained.

And because digestion begins in the stomach, proteins and starches are much better absorbed. Sugars are also absorbed, but are discouraged because they dump into the intestines, causing some patients to have uncomfortable feelings of cramps and nausea.

The physicians say there are drawbacks to the operation, including such possible complications as pneumonia, intra-abdominal infection, hernia, adhesions - and even death.

But Miller said serious complications are rare. So is minimal weight loss and substantial weight gain following surgery. He said only 5 percent of their patients have less than satisfactory results.

Patients' biggest concern is that 50 percent of insurance companies still do not pay for the $7,500 surgery.

The surgeons, who have been doing the procedure for nine years, feel this is a travesty because "excessive weight has an extreme compromise on a person's body and health."

"Obesity is a surgically correctable problem. This surgery not only prolongs an obese person's life, but it improves the quality of that life," Goodman said.

A 176-pound-lighter Lemperle, who sold her motor home to pay for the surgery, agrees.

"I feel like I have been made a new person - been reborn," she said.