Weight Loss Surgery Changes Lives

  • By:  Jamie McAllister

Marie Boyd stood at the top of the stairs to a water slide at Ocean Breeze Waterpark in Virginia Beach. The short climb had left her panting and gasping to catch her breath. At 5’2” and weighing 222 lbs. Marie was out of shape and overweight. She glanced behind her at her young children, twin sons and a daughter, and she knew they deserved a healthier, more active mom. At that moment she realized if she didn’t do something to lose weight, she would only keep gaining.

Many women struggle for years to lose weight, trying countless diets and programs without success. For some, gastric bypass surgery, during which a small stomach pouch is created and the main part of the organ is bypassed, is an option for weight loss. Following are the stories of three Tidewater women who chose to have the surgery and afterwards lost weight, got healthy, and reclaimed their lives.

After going through numerous challenges, including in vitro fertilization to conceive her children, spending time in the neonatal intensive care unit with a premature infant, and dealing with a bad relationship, Marie Boyd had gained a great deal of weight.

“I was an emotional eater,” she said. “Cookies of any kind were my weakness.”

Marie visited a doctor at Sentara to discuss her options. Since she did not have any medical conditions related to obesity, she qualified for the surgery solely because of her high body mass index (BMI). Prior to the surgery, she attended support group meetings to hear from the experts in Sentara’s bariatric surgery program who would guide her on her journey, including surgeons, nutritionists, and nurses, as well as those who had already been through the surgery. She learned what she would need to do to take care of herself pre- and post-surgery and beyond.

Following her surgery, Marie spent two days in the hospital. She heeded all the advice the surgeons gave and followed every rule to a T. Now, four years later, she weighs 125 lbs.

“I was ecstatic at 150 lbs.,” Marie said. “I never thought I would get down to 125. I used to wear a size 20 and now I wear a size 0.”

More than Marie’s dress size changed after her gastric bypass surgery. When she lost the weight, she gained more confidence and decided to pursue a new career path. In 2012 she completed a 20-week course with Virginia Beach EMS and became a volunteer EMT with the Plaza Volunteer Rescue Squad. She is also a member of their extrication team and is trained to use the Jaws of Life to remove accident victims from vehicles.

The EMT training led to a job offer from Sentara, and now Marie is an ER technician in Sentara Princess Anne’s emergency department.

“If I hadn’t decided to make a change and have the surgery, I would never have had the courage to become an EMT or work in the ER,” Marie said. “I was one of the first responders on the scene when the Navy F/A 18 jet crashed in Virginia Beach in 2012, and I also helped victims of the tornado on the Eastern Shore last summer. It’s an incredible feeling to know that the life-changing decision I made has put me in a position to help save the lives of others.”

Candee Reid and her husband Dean were both severely overweight. At 5’7” and in her early 40s, Candee weighed 283 lbs. Dean, at 6’2” and in his mid-40s, weighed 330 lbs. Candee was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 12, and as an adult her blood sugar began spiraling out of control.

“I was taking around 17 prescription medicines a day, gaining weight, and feeling worse and worse,” Candee said. “I struggled with so many health issues, including asthma, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, and acid reflux, just to name a few. I took high dosages of two types of insulin to control my diabetes, and I used two different inhalers. I knew I had to make a change.”

Candee had tried to lose weight in the past, using numerous well-known programs and other less-known plans like the Cabbage Soup Diet. She was successful at one point, but ended up gaining back the 50 pounds she had lost, and even some extra, when she wasn’t able to keep up with the program.

In March 2015 Candee had her gastric bypass surgery at Bon Secours Surgical Weight Loss Center in Virginia Beach. Three weeks later, in April, her husband Dean had his. Today Candee weighs 184 lbs. and Dean weighs 235 lbs.

“We were there for each other the whole time,” Candee said. “We both wanted to lose weight, and it was definitely a benefit for us to have each other for support.”

Exercise is now a big part of the Reids’ daily lives. The couple does water aerobics at the Y, and they use exercise machines at their home in Parksley on the Eastern Shore.

“I have so much more energy now, and I exercise all the time,” Candee said. “I love the way I look, and if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Proper nutrition is a big component of Candee and Dean’s weight-loss success. Where before they lived to eat, now they eat to live.

“After gastric bypass surgery, you have to think outside the box and use your imagination more when preparing food, but you don’t have to deprive yourself,” Candee explained. “If you make healthy substitutions and eat smaller portions, you can still eat a lot of the foods you enjoy.”

Sometimes it’s the little things that make a big difference. For the first time in years Candee is no longer self-conscious and doesn’t try to hide her extra weight with clothing. “We went to a waterpark this past summer, and for the first time in a long time, I wore shorts,” she said.

Dr. Elizabeth Barrett, the bariatric surgeon at Bon Secours who performed both Candee’s and Dean’s surgeries, agreed that gastric bypass surgery can create opportunities for activities that many overweight people thought were no longer possible for them.

“Surgery can give you the ability to do something as simple as tying your shoes or getting on your hands and knees to play with your child or grandchild,” Dr. Barrett said. “After surgery I have seen patients embrace hobbies they never knew they had, including one woman who became a competitive figure skater.”

Now that Candee and Dean are enjoying the benefits of a healthier lifestyle, their children, both in their 20s, are ready to shed excess pounds and take control of their weight, too.

“Our bad habits were passed down to our children,” Candee said. “They have seen our success after the surgeries, and now they are working with the specialists at Bon Secours to have the surgery done. They don’t want to go down the same unhealthy path we did.”

Forty-eight was a very important age for Nancy Pigford, a nurse at Chesapeake Regional Medical Center (CRMC). Her brother died of a heart attack when he was 48, and her sister passed away from breast cancer at the same age. At 5’3” 48-year-old Nancy weighed 250 lbs. and knew she had to make a change if she wanted to live a long life with her husband, children, and grandchildren.

Nancy often found herself short of breath just walking from the CRMC parking lot to her nursing station. She took medications for high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and she was pre-diabetic. She tried several different diet plans but always ended up gaining the weight back eventually. For two years she debated whether or not to have the surgery.

Dr. Glen Moore, Nancy’s bariatric surgeon at CRMC, noted that many common conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, are linked to obesity. “When patients lose weight after surgery, they usually see a vast improvement, if not complete resolution, of those medical conditions,” he explained. “For the majority of people, the risks of remaining obese far outweigh the risks that accompany the surgery.”

Now two years post-surgery Nancy weighs between 146-155 lbs. Her only regret is that she didn’t go through with the surgery sooner.

Nutrition and exercise also play important roles in Nancy’s weight-loss success. She follows all of the guidelines CRMC provided about what and how much to eat and exercises at their Lifestyle Center gym several times a week.

“Many people think gastric bypass is the cheater’s way out, but it’s not,” she said. “After surgery you have to dedicate yourself to changing your lifestyle and make your health a top priority.”

Getting the surgery and working hard to lose weight have been major confidence boosters for Nancy. “When I started attending the support groups, I was like a little mouse in the corner,” she said. “Now I am able to share my story and support others who are going through what I did.”

Nancy still attends the patient support groups at CRMC and often acts as a mentor to others who are either contemplating the surgery or going through the process. In her work as the Fifth Floor Coordinator at CRMC, she is able to interact with the bariatric patients and is always happy to share her story with them.

“Patients often believe me more than the doctors because I have been there and done that,” she said with a laugh. “I meet people at the support groups, and I sometimes stop in as they are being prepped for surgery to let them know I will be there when it’s over. I work the night shift, so if they wake up and have a question, I tell them they can contact me any time for answers.”

Nancy enjoys her role as mentor and advocate. It feeds into her passion for nurturing and teaching others. The patients aren’t the only ones who benefit from the relationship, though.

“They keep me motivated,” she said. “I put myself out there as a success story so I want to be sure I keep on track and hold myself accountable to my health and weight-loss goals. I get so much satisfaction from helping others lose weight and live healthier lives.”

As with any major medical procedure, gastric bypass surgery comes with risks and may not be an option for everyone. For more information or to speak with a specialist, contact:

• Sentara Comprehensive Weight Loss Solution, call 757-252-9500 or visit sentaraweightloss.com/our-program.

• Bon Secours Surgical Weight Loss Center, call 757-673-5990 or visit www.bonsecourssurgicalweightloss.com.

• Chesapeake Regional Medical Center’s bariatric surgery program, call 757-312-3000 or visit chesapeakeregional.com/bariatric-surgery.

Jamie McAllister is a freelance writer in Virginia Beach. She writes for businesses, nonprofits, and publications. For more information, visit www.mcallisterwe.com.

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