Losing weight can be exasperating for almost anyone, but for people who have significant pounds to shed and who may cope with chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure, weight loss can be even more complicated and frustrating.
When a well-balanced diet and exercise aren’t enough to reach a healthy weight, bariatric weight-loss surgery may be the best option.
For three Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital patients, the motivation to undergo bariatric surgery came from a desire to achieve restored health and a more fulfilling life.
Jenny Hall, who lost her father due to complications associated with obesity, sought a healthier future for herself. Angie Nuckles longed to be fit enough to run around with her grandchildren. And Larry Bowles feared the negative health effects that often come with diabetes.
Sentara Martha Jefferson bariatric surgeon Jayme Stokes, MD, operated on all three patients, who together lost a total of more than 350 pounds following their procedures.
“I couldn’t be happier about or more proud of the success our patients have experienced following bariatric surgery,” says Dr. Stokes, who has performed about 130 bariatric procedures per year in the nearly five years he’s been with Sentara. “These operations truly have the ability to change people’s lives and help them along the path to good health.”
Weight Loss: 162 pounds
For years, Sentara Martha Jefferson nurse practitioner Jenny Hall, 37, of Troy, Va., tried losing weight using various diet plans, over-the-counter medications and exercise regimens. As a result of her efforts, she would usually lose a few pounds, but then she would gain back that weight—and more—leading to a frustrating, disappointing cycle.
The death of her father in 2016 due to diabetes and other obesity complications, along with her own diabetes and high blood pressure, convinced Jenny that she needed to find a permanent weight-loss solution.
“I came to realize that I couldn’t change on my own and that I needed help,” she says. “It’s like anyone who suffers from a disease or an addiction—you have to realize it’s OK to accept outside help.”
Committing to Weight-Loss Surgery
After researching different bariatric surgery techniques, Hall chose the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass. During this laparoscopic procedure, the surgeon partitions the stomach so that it’s about the size of an egg and moves the intestines to support it. With a smaller stomach, patients eat less and also feel full more quickly.
For the six months leading up to her surgery, Hall worked with a registered dietitian at the Sentara Martha Jefferson Bariatric Care Center to adjust her eating habits and prepare herself for the nutrition requirements that would go into effect after the procedure, including eating high-protein foods; limiting carbs, sugar and fat; and drinking 48-64 ounces of sugar-free fluids daily. She also learned to read nutrition labels and prioritize which foods she should be eating. During the six-month preparation period, Hall lost 35 pounds.
A Powerful Weight-Loss Tool
On the day of her surgery, Hall weighed 317 pounds. She weighs about 190 now.
She considers the surgery a “tool” to help her lose weight. Hopeful that the dietary restrictions patients must follow to avoid medical complications will help her stay on track, she says achieving rapid weight loss still demands discipline.
“The desire to eat certain foods doesn’t go away,” she says. “But you learn to train your brain and your mind in regard to what your body needs, rather than what your mind wants to eat.”
Hall is thrilled with the changes. Her diabetes and high blood pressure have vanished, and she’s off all medications, except for a vitamin patch and some supplements. She also went from a size 28 to a size 10-12.
“Having bariatric surgery was the best decision I’ve made in my entire life,” says Hall. “I would definitely do it again if I had to.”
Weight Loss: 100 pounds
With three granddaughters under age 2, Angie Nuckles, an obstetrics technician at Sentara Martha Jefferson, was becoming increasingly frustrated that her many attempts at weight loss had failed to last.
At 235 pounds, Nuckles wanted to be healthier so she could run around and play with her grandchildren. She was also planning her wedding and wanted to be in better shape for the big day.
“I had tried all kinds of diets and diet pills,” says Nuckles, 43, of Madison Heights. “The weight would come off but then go right back on. I knew I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life taking pills and counting points—I wanted to change things forever.”
After seeing the success of a colleague’s bariatric surgery, Nuckles attended a seminar at Sentara Martha Jefferson to find out more. She then met with Dr. Stokes to consider her options.
Making a Plan
Nuckles opted for a gastric sleeve procedure, a laparoscopic surgery in which surgeons remove 75-85 percent of the stomach. The remaining stomach looks like a tube or “sleeve” about the size of a banana. The intestines stay in place, and food passes through the digestive tract normally.
She spent the next six months preparing for the surgery and her life afterward with the assistance of a dietitian and case manager. Nuckles logged her food and water intake, as well as her exercise. She weighed 227 pounds on the day of her surgery.
After gastric sleeve surgery, patients transition from a liquid diet to soft foods over the course of four weeks. Nuckles’ husband, Mike, is the family chef, and has learned to master cooking meals with high protein, low carbs and no sugar.
“You want to make sure you get the protein in first,” says Nuckles, who married Mike at a beach wedding in September 2018. “At first I had to make myself eat every few hours, but then my body adjusted. I started to notice changes right away.”
Adopting a Healthy Lifestyle
The newlywed now weighs 133 pounds—about 100 pounds less than when she started the process. She was thrilled about the wedding dress she was able to buy, due to her shrinking size.
Nuckles does cardio workouts two to three days a week and focuses on building muscle with light weights. She also follows the postsurgery dietary guidelines faithfully. With a smaller stomach, patients have to be careful not to overeat, and to avoid foods that aren’t on the approved list.
“It’s not easy, but I wouldn’t have changed anything,” she says. “I feel 100 percent better physically and emotionally. Bariatric surgery has made a huge difference in my life.”
Nuckles is also grateful for the support she received at Sentara Martha Jefferson and from her family.
“I could not have come as far as I have without support from the whole staff at Dr. Stokes’ office, and also from my husband, sons and daughters-in-law, who have stood by my side and encouraged me every step of the way,” Nuckles says. “Having a good support system plays a major role in weight-loss success.”
Weight Loss: 100 pounds
Traveling for business several weeks each month for more than 14 years took an unhealthy toll on Larry Bowles, 43, of Fredericksburg. He would often fly from coast to coast, eating out frequently and failing to get enough exercise.
Bowles’ weight eventually reached 320 pounds. Due to his obesity, he developed Type 2 diabetes and had to take medication for high cholesterol. His immune system was also often compromised.
“I’d get colds, strep—anything the kids brought home—and take twice as long to recover,” he says.
Something had to change. He made the difficult decision to quit his job as a director for Microsoft to focus on getting healthier for his wife, Christina, and their four kids. After Christina’s successful weightloss surgery seven years ago at Sentara Martha Jefferson, he also sought a lasting solution.
Putting His Health First
After meeting with Dr. Stokes to discuss bariatric surgery options, Bowles decided on the gastric bypass.
“I was looking for the nuclear option,” recalls Bowles, a former Marine Corps machine gunner.
“If we were going to start rearranging my insides, I wanted it to be a permanent solution.”
Because his wife had undergone gastric bypass, Bowles was familiar with the preparations required before the procedure. When his surgery day arrived in May 2018, Bowles felt mentally and physically prepared. He weighed 305 pounds at the time.
“I’m more active and have more energy now,” says Bowles, who has been open with friends and social media support groups in sharing his story and providing advice.
He has lost 100 pounds since the procedure, shrinking from a 48-inch waist to a 32-inch waist. His diabetes is now in remission, and he no longer takes medication for high cholesterol. He also has started a new job as chief of cloud consulting for a tech company.
“This surgery is not like pressing the ‘easy button’ by any stretch of the imagination,” he says. “It takes discipline and hard work. But it has changed my life, and I feel better than ever.”
Patients may eligible for bariatric surgery if they have:
• A body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher
• A BMI of at least 35 and are diagnosed with one or more serious obesity-related conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes or sleep apnea
Those interested in bariatric surgery must first attend an informational seminar at Sentara Martha Jefferson or complete the seminar online before seeing a bariatric surgeon. Call 1-800-SENTARA for more information.