A journey in learning about weight loss surgery

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Are you struggling with obesity and obesity-related health conditions?

There might be a way forward that you haven’t looked into yet.

Weight loss surgery might be the answer you’ve been seeking.

One of the things to remember about weight loss surgery or bariatric surgery is that everyone who has undergone it has their own journey and story to tell in how they came to make this decision.

One thing they have in common is they’ve also made the decision to be willing to make a lifelong commitment to their health.

In an effort to learn more about this medical procedure, The Sun Times News spoke with some individuals who wanted to share their own experiences.

The surgery is offered at both St. Joseph Mercy Chelsea Hospital and the University Hospital at Michigan.

The Michigan Medicine Adult Bariatric Surgery Program offers a comprehensive, personalized weight loss surgery program designed to help patients reach their health goals.

Felicia Heddle, 30, who grew up in Ypsilanti, but now lives New Hudson, said it’s important for people who are thinking about the surgery to understand it as much as they can.

She works at Michigan Medicine in the radiology department.

To begin to understand it, she said you need to know you are not alone.

“What I would say to anyone that is in a similar situation is that you are not alone,” said Heddle. “There will be people in your life that may not support you because they do not understand the struggle you are going through. They will tell you, you are taking the easy way out; it is far from that, it is a complete lifestyle change for the rest of your life. Do it for you because you are the most important, this is your life and your health. The people who will support you are the ones that care the most.”

She described herself as having never been what would be considered “small or normal.”

“I was however very athletic from about 8-years-old until I was well into my high school years, I did swimming and volleyball club and school teams all year round,” she said. “When I was out of school I started working crazy hours and only ate once a day most of the time and when I did eat I didn’t eat poorly, I just ate way too much.”

She said she finally got to the point where she was dieting and exercising and somehow still gaining weight after switching to a job where she sat all day instead of all of her old jobs where she was on her feet.

She said it was not a little, but a pretty large amount of weight.

“When I decided I needed some intervention and I couldn’t do it on my own anymore I was 5’3” and 309 pounds and I didn’t have any health problems, but just being alive was uncomfortable,” she recalled.

Thomas Ginyard, 43, who currently lives in Flint, by way of Ypsilanti, is another up-close perspective. He currently works at Oxus America, in Auburn Hills, as a material handler in inventory control.

What led him to have bariatric surgery really began in 2010, when he was diagnosed with Atrial fibrillation or A-Fib. He said he was already battling high blood pressure and borderline type 2 diabetes, and he struggled with his weight throughout life. After numerous tries at weight loss diets and gimmicks and endless trips to the hospital, he said he hit rock bottom December of 2014 as his weight increased and his will to live was draining.

“After another hospitalization, I eventually had a pacemaker implanted and thus my journey began,” he said. “My highest weight was 597 pounds, it was inevitable that I either change my way of life or die.”

In an effort to learn more, the Sun Times News reached out to the surgery program in Chelsea and Ann Arbor.

Colleen Buda, a Physician Assistant and Program Director of the Adult Bariatric Surgery Program, gave some further understanding.

She started with talking about obesity, which she said is a common disease that can be associated with weight-related medical conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and certain types of cancer. She said both genetic and environmental factors can play a role in obesity, which she emphasized is a disease and not attributed to a lack of willpower.

“Some individuals may have success with diet and exercise, but most individuals regain their weight and cycle through this process several times with little chance to achieve and maintain a normal weight,” said Buda.

She said once an individual reaches a body mass index (BMI) greater than 35, the chance of achieving and maintaining a normal weight is minimal.

This is where weight loss surgery, also known as bariatric surgery, can help.

She said it can effectively treat obesity, “but it can also treat other weight-related medical conditions and increase life expectancy.”

Heddle said she got her surgery at Michigan Medicine in April 2019.

“The process itself was actually really quick, but I felt very prepared for what life was going to be like after,” said Heddle. “They made sure you have all the materials and all of the support you need to succeed in this program compared to others I know. “

She said the pre-surgery diet, “was honestly harder than after surgery because prior to surgery you’re still starving all of the time.”

“After surgery you couldn’t have paid me to want to eat because of I didn’t have an appetite for a while,” she recalled. “But then something awesome happens if you look at it the right way, you actually get to fall in love with food in a healthy way. See I have to eat so slowly and so little that if you look at it in the right way I get to enjoy and savor every bite we eat, instead of just engulfing it like I used to.”

Her outcome: she now maintains a weight between 133 and 135 pounds. She said they originally gave her an estimated weight loss of 178 pounds, so she surpassed that.

Buda said the Adult Bariatric Surgery Program at Michigan Medicine offers two different types of surgery, the Sleeve Gastrectomy and (Roux-en-Y) Gastric Bypass.

“We offer a minimally invasive approach for both procedures, which uses 4-6 small incision sites in the abdomen, and you are in the hospital approximately 1-2 nights,” she said.

The sleeve gastrectomy is performed by removing approximately 80 percent of the stomach to create a long, tubular-shaped stomach. The gastric bypass is performed by creating a small stomach pouch, about the size of an egg, and then connecting a portion of intestine to the pouch. The food will “bypass” the remainder of the stomach and a portion of the intestine.

“Both procedures decrease the capacity of the stomach, limit absorption and change hormonal signals,” according to Buda. “One of the major benefits are the changes in gut hormones, which may contribute to decreased appetite and satiety, among other advantages.”

For this reason, she said you may see bariatric surgery referred to as “metabolic and bariatric surgery.”

To make a change, Ginyard said he enrolled in the University of Michigan Bariatric program and in 2017 he had Gastric Sleeve surgery in Ann Arbor.

He said the process was in multiple parts, “first you have to attend an informational seminar at Domino's Farms, which is about an hour with Q&A. He said once you decide the second step is getting your health insurance requirements, in this case he was required to meet with my PCP (primary care physician) for six months straight to prove that he tried everything possible to lose weight.”

“Once approved by my insurance I began the real work, which I had to attend group sessions at University of Michigan department of psychiatric and also had to take a mental stability test and meet with a mental health expert to determine if I was mentally capable to handle the rigors of bariatric surgery,” he said.

The third step was losing the required weight in order to get to a good place to qualify for surgery.

In his case, the magic number was 480 pounds. This required a diet plan to included Whey protein shakes and cutting out unhealthy foods.

“The idea is to prove to doctors that you can handle the process and lose as much weight before surgery along with reducing risk factors,” said Ginyard.

Along the way there were some roadblocks for him. He said he had H Plylori, which is a type of bacteria.

“These germs can enter your body and live in your digestive tract,” he said. “After many years, they can cause sores, called ulcers, in the lining of your stomach or the upper part of your small intestine. For some people, an infection can lead to stomach cancer. Once all clear it was on to surgery.”

He said the day after surgery he was immediately taken for an X-ray to insure surgery was a success, then there was getting up and walking to gain strength.

His outcome has seen him over the last three and half years getting his blood pressure under control and he’s been able to be taken off multiple medications.

“I have gained my confidence,” he said. “I started back working full time on December 18, 2018. I have also become a vegetarian.”

Buda said it’s important to remember that there is a misconception that bariatric surgery is an “easy fix,” which she said is far from the truth.

“To qualify for surgery, an individual must meet certain criteria and spend a certain amount of time working with the bariatric program, which is generally mandated by insurance requirements,” she said.

Before an individual proceeds to surgery, she said there is a certain amount of education that is necessary so the individual adapts to necessary lifestyle changes.

“Surgery alone does not promote weight loss, but requires a healthy diet and exercise program for success,” said Buda. “You can think of surgery like a tool in your toolbox, and when combined with the appropriate diet and exercise routine, you have a balance of resources.”

In answering the question, what would you say to someone in a similar situation as you and thinking about it, Ginyard said he “would advise them to make sure that they exhaust all options before deciding to opt in, make sure that their support system is strong.”

“I would inform them that trips to the store would never be the same and be prepared to find new friends to share your journey with because not everyone will support you,” he said.

A lot of the support starts with Michigan Medicine, which Buda said offers a multidisciplinary approach and personalized care to help individuals reach their goals.

“We have a team of surgeons, dietitians, psychologists, endocrinologists, physician assistants, nurses and patient service coordinators to guide individuals through their weight loss journey,” she said.

Michigan Medicine provides support services including support groups, monthly newsletters, online support, comprehensive appointments, and lifelong follow-up with their dietitians and endocrinologists.

If you are interested in bariatric surgery through the Michigan Medicine program, please contact 734-936-5738 or to learn more go to https://www.uofmhealth.org/conditions-treatments/surgery/bariatric-surgery-informational-sessions.

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