Guest author Erica Fletcher, CPAT, CCAT, is a Medicare reimbursement specialist at Mercy. Since 2009, she has made dramatic lifestyle changes and undergone gastric bypass surgery to improve her health and well-being. This is her story. (Updated 10/14/13)
I viewed it as the last chance to save my life.
Overweight since age 6, I reached a turning point in January 2009 when I saw the results of my blood work during a check-up with my endocrinologist. At the time, I weighed 397 pounds. I was pre-diabetic and quickly heading to full-blown diabetes. Even with six blood-pressure pills a day, I was struggling to manage my blood pressure. My creatinine level was elevated; I suffered from frequent urinary tract infections (UTI); and two pills a day for severe acid reflux was not alleviating symptoms. With severe sleep apnea and a CPAP pressure of 15, the next step was oxygen at night. I was also having a difficult time managing my asthma. I had to use emergency nebulizer treatments two or three times per week, and I would get short of breath climbing a single flight of stairs.
My endocrinologist suggested weight-loss surgery because I needed to lose a large amount of weight in a short period of time to make a positive impact on my health and quality of life.
Gradual Weight Loss Was Good But Not Enough
The day I walked out of the endocrinologist’s office, I started my weight-loss journey toward a healthier, happier me. I began to use a smaller plate, add fruits and vegetables to my meals, keep a food diary, avoid sugary drinks and exercise a couple times a week.
During an informational session on Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery, I learned how it could greatly improve or even eliminate my chronic conditions. By the time I meet with my bariatric surgeon, Dr. John Zografakis, I had already lost 12 pounds in two months. Afterwards, I entered a physician-supervised weight-loss program and attended a support group.
Originally scheduled for surgery in July 2009, I had to delay the procedure because of a work-related injury. I continued to lose weight through diet and exercise, which was positive but not enough to make the health difference I needed.
To get ready for my surgery, I also completed eight weeks in Mercy’s OPTIFAST program and lost 52 more pounds. Finally, on August 30, 2010, I underwent gastric bypass surgery.
Gastric Bypass: Not the Easy Way Out
Some people think Roux-en-Y gastric bypass is the easy way out. I can tell you it is not! But it is an invaluable tool that has helped me become more healthy. Gastric bypass surgery does not take the place of lifestyle changes, but it can be part of getting your life back. The changes I’ve made since surgery include:
- Eat five to six small meals a day
- Strictly limit my sugar and fat intake or become very sick
- Track my protein and water intake
- Strictly adhere to a daily vitamin regimen
- Exercise and make smart, healthy food choices
Most days, I use the MyFitnessPal app to track my food and water intake, as well as my daily exercise. For me, this has been more effective than a paper food diary because, at any given point, I know how many calories I’ve eaten, how much protein I have taken in and how many calories I have remaining for the day. Knowing exactly where I stand at any moment helps me stay to keep on track with my weight-loss journey.
I still attend two bariatric support group meetings every month, one lead by the bariatric dietician and the other lead by the bariatric clinical physiologist. This has proven to be a tremendous resource for me to help to stay on track with my lifestyle changes. As a result of the surgery, I will never again be able to chew gum, drink through a straw or have carbonated beverages; however, this is a small price to pay for getting my life and health back!
Walking (and Hiking) Away from Obesity for Good
Today I am a hike organizer with Akron Area Hiking. I really enjoy hiking with this great group of people as we explore the sights and sounds while getting daily exercise. I have hiked over 250 miles since June 18, 2013, the day my doctor cleared me to resume hiking following a severe ankle injury. By scheduling the hikes with the group, I am making exercise a priority on a daily basis.
I have scheduled hikes in Summit, Medina, Stark, Portage and Cuyahoga Counties, as well as in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Knowing the people are counting on me to organize these hikes motivates me to exercise even on days when I don’t feel like it. I have pushed myself to hike over 11 miles in a single day, and the time and miles pass easily when socializing with an amazing group of friends.
(I encourage you to join us! Ohio has some truly beautiful parks. If you haven’t explored one lately, what are you waiting for?)
In addition, I participate in Walk from Obesity, an annual, nationwide walk-a-thon sponsored by ASMBS Foundation (American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery).
To date, I’ve shed more than 165 pounds, and I am striving to lose even more. However, I weigh less today than I have in my entire adult life, which is something to celebrate. I am no longer pre-diabetic, and I take only one, low-dose blood pressure medication per day that will hopefully be eliminated with additional weight loss.
My creatinine level has returned to normal. I no longer have acid reflux. My sleep apnea has improved greatly, and I am being re-tested soon to see if it has completely resolved. My asthma is well controlled, and I no longer am plagued by frequent UTIs.
So, when people ask me why I had the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery, I tell them I did it for me and my health. Looking better is just an added benefit. Having gastric bypass surgery is the BEST gift I have ever given myself. It has given me my life back. _____________________________________________________
Update, 11/6/2013: After I presented the story of my weight-loss journey to my bariatric support group in October, Chuck Gough, head of Akron Area Hiking for Health and a fellow bariatric patient, surprised me with an award for leading more than 85 hikes and logging over 300 miles. I am the charter member to the 300 club! He also thanked me for growing the group’s membership from 350 hikers to more than 560.
This is the first award for fitness that I have ever received in my life, aside from my Summit Metro Parks Fall Hiking Spree Stick & Shield in 2012 and my Medina County Trekking Through Autumn Backpack in 2013 for completing the hiking series for both counties. Between June 18 and today, I’ve led 101 hikes and logged more than 360 miles!
Roux-en-Y bariatric surgery is available within the Sisters of Charity Health System at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center in Cleveland. If you live in Canton, Massillon or elsewhere in or around Stark County, Ohio, Mercy Weight Management can help prepare you for surgery. Contact us for more information.