Surgery Helps Ease Woman's Lifelong Struggle With Weight

Exploring bariatric surgery options for a lifelong struggle with weight management

For most of her life, Susan M. unsuccessfully waged war with her weight.

“Food was my drug of choice. I was heavy — even as a child,” the 59-year-old says. “Over the years, I went on so many diets. I could lose weight, but I couldn’t keep it off.”

At the peak of her struggle, Susan hit 282 pounds. A mother of four, her adult children became increasingly concerned about her health.

“They considered doing an intervention to help me realize how badly I was hurting myself,” she says. “I knew I was overweight, but I didn’t face what it was doing to me.”

Over the years, the weight damaged Susan’s physical health and her self-esteem suffered. She had sleep apnea and borderline high blood pressure. The extra weight on Susan’s joints exacerbated the osteoarthritis in her knees.

“Simply moving was difficult,” she says.

Bariatric surgical options: the research process

Done with pain and procrastination, Susan took action. She began researching bariatric surgical options, learning about the potential risks and rewards. A prudent shopper, she browsed support groups and informational sites on the Web to learn more about the procedures and their outcomes.

Susan also checked out various weight loss surgery programs around San Diego. Originally, she sought help from another well-known bariatric surgery provider, but wasn’t satisfied with the level of care she received until meeting the team at Scripps Clinic Center for Weight Management.

“Immediately, I felt valued as a person and in very good hands,” said Susan. “They made me feel welcome and gave me support. There was a real connection there. I believed they could take me all the way through the experience.”

Exploring gastric banding alternatives

Susan and Mark Takata, MD, her doctor from Scripps Green Hospital’s Bariatric Surgery Program, explored the options. Gastric banding, they decided, was the right fit. During the operation, an adjustable silicone band is placed around the upper part of the stomach reducing its size. Considered to be the safest and least invasive of the weight loss surgeries available, gastric banding is reversible.

“It was comforting to know that if complications arose down the road, I could have it removed,” said Susan.

Preparing for surgery physically, mentally and emotionally

By the time Susan’s surgery date approached, she was prepared — mentally and physically — for the challenge ahead.

“I got in the best shape I possibly could and I didn’t fool around when they told me to do something,” she says. “I followed every recommendation. They knew I was going to be a good candidate because I was committed to making a change in my life.”

Knowing she needed more than surgery to fix her eating issues, Susan took a hard look at the behavior that lead to her weight gain, and learned new ways to think about food.

“One of the physicians at the center once told me that eating is kind of like having a credit card,” she says. “You can charge, but you have to pay it off. His advice became a guiding principle.”

A teacher by trade, Susan took a week off from work. The surgery was done laparoscopically.

“I don’t have any scars,” Susan says. “You can’t tell I had surgery.”

Coping with challenges and reaping rewards

No one saw the evidence of surgery, but everyone, especially Susan, noticed the transformation that occurred afterward. She dropped more than 105 pounds, went from wearing a size 24w to a size 12 — and gained a new outlook on life.

“It’s been remarkable,” she said. “There was this amazing woman inside of me and I was hiding her for so many years.”

With her new, smaller stomach, Susan has to be very mindful of how much she eats and when. Certain items, like soft, bulky foods, are off the menu indefinitely because they are difficult to eat and digest without discomfort.

“Weight loss surgery has required a new level of discipline. I get on the scale every day and I am more accountable than ever before,” she said.

Renewed outlook on exercise, nutrition and overall health

With the new level of responsibility, Susan’s reaped ample rewards. Since the surgery, her physical health improved — and so did her self-esteem. Her son recently graduated from medical school. Susan attended the ceremony with renewed confidence, wearing a stylish new dress.

“Before the surgery, I would always look around to see if I was the fattest person in the room,” she says. “That doesn’t cross my mind anymore.”

Susan walks regularly to stay in shape and receives on-going emotional comfort through the center’s support groups. She knows her overhauled approach to eating and exercising requires consistency.

“People who are overweight and are considering surgical intervention should know that this procedure is not a magic bullet. You can easily gain the weight back,” Susan asserts. “Your problems don’t disappear because you have surgery. It takes work, but it’s worth it.”