Dana R. is a 42-year old project manager at a telecommunications company in Atlanta, Georgia. She had Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery, performed with laparoscopic techniques, in June 2003.
What weight loss steps had you tried before surgery?
Everything. Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, Atkins, Slimfast, Protein Power, Cambridge Diet. The problem is that no matter what I tried, my weight yo-yo'd - lose 20, gain 25, lose 10, gain 5.
How had your weight affected your life?
Obviously, it impacted my social life. And I believe it also impacted my career. But most importantly, my brother and father have heart conditions and I realized that heart problems could possibly affect me later on, too. So I was very concerned about my health. And physically, it was very hard to do the things I like to do, get out, climb stairs, and so on.
What made you decide that surgery was the next step?
I had tried everything under the sun, and I was ready to make a big lifestyle change and do whatever was needed. I knew surgery was not a cure, but a significant tool to change my eating and lifestyle habits.
How did you hear about this type of surgery?
I had some friends who had the surgery, and I did a lot of research on the Internet. After I consulted with one particular doctor, I talked to a bunch of people who had been to other doctors.
What questions or concerns did you have before the surgery?
I wanted to know my doctor's rate of complications, so I made sure to get those statistics. And I learned that about 1 out of 7 people have gallbladder problems, which actually happened to me. Due to my fast weight loss, I developed gallstones and they needed to remove my gallbladder 11 months after the weight loss surgery.
They will sometimes just remove the gallbladder as part of the weight loss surgery itself, but now a lot of insurance companies don't want you to have it removed unless a problem develops. Also, it is easier to remove the gallbladder as part of an open incision Roux-en-Y, but since mine was laparoscopic, they left my gallbladder in.
What was your weight before surgery?
What is your weight now?
145 pounds (15 months later)
Were there any complications or problems with the surgery itself?
No - if I had to do it again, I would. Like I said, it requires a major lifestyle change. You can never eat the same way again, but I'm much healthier and I' m in much better shape than before.
What was the recovery period like?
Not that bad for me - about 6 weeks. For the first few weeks, of course, you just have liquids. It's like learning to eat all over again. I feel full for the first time my life. You can only have small, small amounts. Your stomach is about the size of your thumb. It is a big adjustment for your whole system.
I did not go to work for 6 weeks. And that was for the laparoscopic surgery, I expect it may have been longer if I had had an open incision.
A lot of people get very ill, very nauseous, very sick. And the surgery itself is major, so you need to get over the anesthesia, which can be very tough. But I was lucky. The recovery period was not so bad for me.
How has the surgery impacted your life since you had the surgery?
I wasn't always heavy all my life -- so mentally, it was fairly easy for me to adjust. I always felt like a thin person. But other people need therapy to look at themselves in a different way. I know people who are only 120 pounds, and they still feel fat -- this is why you need strict psychological testing before surgery to make sure you are a good candidate. Some people need counseling after surgery. And if you are a binge eater, it is probably not right for you.
Is there anything you know now that you wish you had known before surgery?
Not really. I new the complication rates for my doctor and I was ok with that. However, afterward I read a statistic that 1 out of every 200 people die from the surgery. If I had known that, I would have been more apprehensive. I don't know if it would have changed my decision, but I would have been more apprehensive.
What advice would you give to someone considering weight loss surgery?
Be educated, be very educated about it. My doctor recommended a book -- he actually required me to read it -- so that I would know that it is not the easy way out. A lot of people think you just have the surgery and automatically lose weight with no effort. In fact, you have to eat a certain way the rest of your life, and eat certain foods. I would not have had the surgery if there had been any other effective alternatives for me.
There are peaks and valleys. Be prepared to know it is not reversible -- it is a permanent decision you are making.
Robert A. Cowles, MD, Associate Professor of Surgery, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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