Kevin and Martha Miller
In 2005, Kevin Miller of Ipswich decided his weight problems were more than he could handle. At 345 pounds, Miller, 43, was having trouble waking up and getting out of bed. "I used to love fishing, hiking and camping, but because of my weight it was tough for me to even get off the couch," explained Miller. Suffering from Type II diabetes and already on insulin, Miller met with Frederick Buckley, M.D., a surgeon who specializes in bariatric (weight loss) surgery at North Shore Medical Center, to see what his options were.
NSMC offers a comprehensive surgical weight management program that encompasses a thorough evaluation process, a choice of surgical procedures and an extensive post-operative program involving medically supervised cardiac risk reduction and nutrition education, exercise and peer support. Miller decided on a minimally invasive, laparoscopic gastric bypass and within four days after the surgery his diabetes had improved so much he no longer needed an insulin pump.
His results from the surgery were so good, his wife Martha, 34, started looking into it too. At 265 pounds, she knew her health was at risk. "I was very reluctant for a long time," explained Martha. "I was borderline diabetic, my blood pressure was up and I finally said to myself, 'I have to do this now before it's too late.'" Martha met with Dr. Buckley in September 2007 and he performed the same minimally invasive, laparoscopic gastric bypass surgery. To date, Martha has lost more than 90 pounds, and her weight is still dropping. "This surgery is just one tool to help you control one aspect of being heavy-how much you can eat. To be successful, a complete lifestyle change is necessary. No more late-night food. We watch portion sizes and we've added a lot of exercise, too."
The healthy changes that Kevin and Martha have made are affecting their two young boys, Tim and Scott. "It's amazing how much of an influence parents can be on their children," said Kevin. "Because we're eating right and exercising, now they are too. Our kids are in much better shape now than they were a couple of years ago."
At 24, Danvers resident Erin James' life after college was on track, except for one thing. Although always confident in herself, she was feeling increasingly uncomfortable not only in clothes, but also in social situations. "I was never depressed, but I just knew my weight was holding me back," explains James.
"I love the Red Sox, but couldn't go to any of the games unless I stood the entire time, because I didn't want to spill over into another person's seat." After a lifetime of struggling with her weight, she gained 80 pounds in college. She tried Weight Watchers and lost a lot of weight during her junior year, but ended up gaining it all back, because she went back to her old lifestyle habits.
Finally in October 2008, at her highest weight and wearing a size 24, she knew she had to do something more permanent. With the encouragement of a friend who had recently had gastric band surgery at NSMC, she met with NSMC bariatric surgeon Bernard
Benedetto,M.D., and decided to have minimally invasive surgery to insert a gastric band (also known as a lap band) around her stomach. "I liked the band better than gastric bypass because it's adjustable, could change with me and be removed if necessary," said James.
The lap band is placed around the top of the stomach creating a small pouch that fills with food to about the size of an egg. "With the smaller stomach, patients feel full faster, eat less, and the food empties out of the stomach more slowly, reducing the urge to eat," explained Dr. Benedetto. "But because the digestion process is not altered, as it is with a gastric bypass, all calories and nutrients are still absorbed, so patients need to be very careful about their diet and exercise."
Prior to surgery, James started exercising and changed her diet in anticipation of her new lifestyle, and lost 20 pounds. She was so excited and committed to the process that she encouraged her mother to have the lap-band surgery just two months later. "It's been great to go through this together because we can support and encourage each other."
All NSMC patients are required to participate in a 12-week post-operative program that combines exercise with lessons on nutrition, stress management and tips for success. "The lap band is only a tool to help me lose weight; now I have to learn how to use it and make a commitment to changing my life," said James. "It's hard work and it really takes three months to break old habits and learn new ones I can stick with."
"The post-operative program is what sets NSMC apart from other hospitals," said James. "A friend had a gastric bypass at another hospital and because she had no follow-up support, her lifestyle and habits didn't change and she gained back much of her weight after her initial weight loss. NSMC's team has helped me solve real life issues, like the temptation of birthday cake and the changing attitudes of some friends. It's this extra attention that will make me successful."
Down 105 pounds in eight months, James is well on her way to meeting her goal. She keeps a food journal, exercises at least four times per week and rarely drinks alcohol. "This summer was great," said James. "I bought clothes at a 'regular' store, went to the beach, an amusement park and enjoyed going to five Red Sox games. I did a couple of fundraising races and I met my new boyfriend." As a teacher in an after-school recreation program in Danvers, James says she can feel the changes she's making every day. "I can play tag, jump rope and climb with the kids, which I couldn't do easily before. Now I have the stamina to keep up with them," she exclaimed. "Finally, my body is matching the strong, confident person I've been on the inside."
(This story is reprinted with permission from an article that appeared in the Salem News on 4/28/2008, written by Susan Flynn)
As Amy Watkins approached the hill, sled in tow, she convinced herself everyone was staring at her, this fat lady about to make a fool of herself.
Then she remembered: She's not fat anymore.
So Watkins and her 7-year-old son, for the first time in their lives, climbed into the same sled and zoomed down the hill, screaming and laughing the whole way.
"We had an absolute blast," she wrote.
Watkins writes often and in detail about her weight following gastric bypass surgery last summer. Her patient blog - the first of its kind for North Shore Medical Center - was introduced last month and provides an honest account of how the procedure can change a life in wonderful and scary ways. Or, as the blog states, she delivers "the good, the great, the bad and the ugly" of what for many is a last-ditch approach to overcome obesity.
The hospital wanted a patient's point of view on its Web site and approached Watkins, a 39-year-old single mother from Danvers. They knew she had written for other sites and were struck by her candid approach. She is not paid for her blog, nor is she edited or censored.
About 600 gastric bypass procedures have been performed at the hospital since 2000. At a recent open house for prospective patients, half of the people there said they had read Watkins' blog.
On her blog, Watkins describes a lifetime of struggles with weight, starting with anorexia and bulimia as a teen and extending into adulthood, when at age 38 her weight ballooned to 254 pounds. Not quite 5 feet 2 inches tall, she was classified as morbidly obese. Her neck got so big she struggled to breathe at night.
"I was afraid I would die before I could raise my son," she says.
Before her gastric bypass surgery, Watkins found it helped to put her feelings to paper, or to computer screen. She shared some entries with a hospital staff member, who recognized the potential benefit to others.
Watkins views her blog as a journal that she just happens to make public.
"I try not to think about other people reading it," she says. Otherwise, she says, she might not be so honest.
Few subjects are out of bounds. She chronicles bra shopping at Victoria's Secret, awful online dates, strict diets, hunger pains, nausea and constipation, worries about her son, and the nagging fear that the weight will return someday.
"I have never maintained a weight loss for more than a year ... and it scares the absolute bejeezus out of me that I could potentially fail even with surgical intervention," she wrote in February.
She posts photos - back, side and front - to show her weight loss results. She is down to 132 pounds, a total loss of 122 pounds. Her goal weight is 115.
She uses the blog to share recipes, recommend cookbooks and suggest favorite weight-loss-surgery-friendly foods to help maintain her 1,200-calorie-a-day diet.
Watkins says the blog gives her a place to vent, a place to celebrate, a place to think things through. She has no regrets, about the surgery or her decision to make her recovery open to the public.
"I try to trust and believe we're all human beings and we all experience the same stuff whether we want to talk about it or not," she says. "I don't think any of us are all alone as long as we don't choose to be."