Barbara Hess’ friends did a double-take when they saw her six months after her weight-loss surgery. Weighing in 80 pounds lighter, she looked like a new woman.
“They couldn’t believe it,” Hess, of Graham, said. “You’ve known these people for years and years and they don’t recognize you.”
Hess understands their shocked faces because she still does not recognize her “new” body.
“You get a picture of yourself as a fat person,” Hess said, explaining that when she brings size medium clothes into the dressing room she immediately thinks those will not fit her. “It takes a while to grow on you that you’re thin.”
Before the surgery, Hess weighed 250 pounds. Three years later, Hess is 105 pounds lighter and is happier than ever because her health is under control.
Hess had gastric-bypass surgery at the Duke Weight-Loss Center in December 2008. She had high blood pressure problems and was taking four medications to address these issues. She also had high cholesterol and developed Type II diabetes three months before the operation. She decided to have the surgery after reading an article in USA Today about the dangers of comorbidities, or the presence of two or more diseases in the body.
“Why take a chance with my health if there was a possible answer,” she said, deciding that gastric-bypass surgery was the best option.
Hess was able to stop taking her cholesterol and blood pressure medications after the surgery because these health conditions are now under control. She also no longer has Type II diabetes.
The surgery helped Hess change her mindset about food and she now enjoys taking time to savor her meals. Hess also pays attention to portion size and only takes a “dabble” of different foods because that small amount will fill her up.
“You’re not deprived,” Hess said. “You’re just sensible. I look now and I can’t believe how much food I used to eat that I didn’t need.”
Even though Hess had her operation at Duke, she is happy that Alamance Regional Medical Center now offers this service because it makes attending support groups and meetings easier for local residents who want to have this surgery.
OBESITY WAS LABELED as one of the top health needs in the Alamance County Community Assessment, making it important for healthcare providers to offer weight-management options. Staff members at Alamance Regional paid attention to this need and began developing plans to offer weight-loss surgery in July 2011, said Lorry Miceli, special projects coordinator at Alamance Regional and liaison for the bariatric program.
“Weight-loss surgery is a very safe and effective tool in the struggle with obesity,” Miceli said, adding she hopes Alamance Regional’s bariatric program will be recognized as a Center of Excellence in a few years.
Preparations to offer weight-loss surgery began nine months ago. The nurses and staff underwent extensive training for these procedures and special equipment was purchased. The staff also completed an entire run-through of the surgery to ensure they were prepared to handle patients. This preparation was multi-disciplinary as surgeons, nurses, therapists and dietitians worked together to create an environment to meet the needs of bariatric patients, Miceli said.
Alamance Regional partnered with Drs. Jon Bruce and Michael Tyner. The business partners decided to open an office in Burlington after hearing from their Alamance County patients that there was no bariatric program in the community. With a large hospital in the area, Bruce and Tyner immediately recognized this opportunity and worked to make their Cary-based program more accessible to their patients. The doctors opened Bariatric Specialists of Alamance at 3344 S. Church Street in Burlington on April 10.
“Instead of them coming to us, let’s come to them,” said Dona Miller, office manager at Bariatric Specialists.
One of the leading causes of this decision is the importance of continued follow-up to a patient’s successful recovery, Miceli said, making the offering of weight-loss surgery and support groups at Alamance Regional vital to the community.
“When you look at the success of weight-loss surgical procedures, it’s related to how close the center is to the patients’ homes,” Bruce said.
A community-based weight-loss center also helps patients address any complications that result from the surgery. Risks vary for each type of bariatric surgery and may include vomiting, nausea, excess skin and the inability to absorb needed nutrients.
The surgery is very safe and the risk of death is less than 1 percent, Bruce said. It is necessary to weigh the risks of having surgery against the risks of not having surgery and living with high blood pressure, diabetes or other diseases, he said, adding that the majority of weight-loss patients have no complications after the surgery.
Bruce and Tyner are licensed to perform a variety of surgical options to best meet their patient’s needs.
“We pick the best option based on the patient’s medical situation and weight,” Tyner said.
Hormones are the leading cause of obesity and weight-loss surgery corrects this by affecting a person’s hormones.
“We tell patients to quit feeling guilty because it’s not just about willpower,” Tyner said. “It also has to do with hormones, which is something they can’t control.”
Bruce and Tyner are the first surgeons with privileges to perform bariatric surgery at Alamance Regional and began performing these operations in December 2011. There have been almost 15 bariatric surgeries in the county since that time, Tyner said. Since it takes about two months to prepare a patient for the surgery, Tyner expects this number to slowly increase as more community members learn about this option and determine if it is right for their health.
Bariatric Specialists of Alamance offers a variety of weight-management systems, including surgical procedures, medically supervised dieting programs, and nutrition and exercise counseling. Bruce and Tyner plan to open EnVision NutriCenter in summer 2012 to offer a full line of weight loss/maintenance supplements and products to help all patients manage their weight.
“We want to be as complete and thorough as we can,” Tyner said.
The surgeons educate the public about this surgery through a series of meetings offered at Alamance Regional. Weight-loss seminars are held once per month from 6 to 7:15 p.m. A bariatric surgery support group meets from 7:30-8:30 p.m. on those same evenings. There has been a steady increase in interest from community members and about 20 community members attended the April 10 seminars, Miceli said. You can register online for these events at www.armc.com (under “Classes and Resources”) or by calling 336-586-4000.