Obesity has reached epidemic levels in the United States, with more than 70% of American adults now classified as obese or overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Perhaps not surprisingly, a CDC report released in November 2020 revealed that 17% of adults over the age of 24 are currently following some sort of special diet—most commonly a weight-loss or low-calorie diet.
Even with the many diet plans out there, however, losing weight can be challenging. In fact, studies show that nearly 90% of dieting programs fail on their own to help people maintain healthy weight loss in the long term. For some individuals, weight-loss surgery (also known as bariatric surgery) can be an effective alternative to help achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
At Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital, our dedicated Bariatric Program team partners with patients during every step of their weight-loss journey, from preparation for surgery, to recovery, to establishing and maintaining lifelong healthy habits. Below, three recent Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital bariatric surgery patients share their success stories.
Revision Surgery Boosts Weight Loss
When the COVID-19 pandemic caused schools across the country to transition to online learning at home last year, Mandy Feagan often joined in her 8-year-old daughter’s elementary classroom “wiggle breaks”—they were a fun way for her to stay active following weight-loss surgery at Sentara Martha Jefferson.
“The teacher would have the kids get up out of their chairs and do silly dances or other movements, and I’d join my daughter to add a little bit of exercise to my daily routine,” says Feagan, 40, of Forest, Va.
For nearly 25 years, Feagan had struggled to lose weight. Having watched family members deal with health problems like high blood pressure and diabetes, she was concerned about her own long-term outlook.
“Mostly, I was worried about being around for my daughter,” says Feagan, a certified tumor registrar for Himagine Solutions.
Feagan initially had undergone gastric lap band surgery in 2009, but the procedure proved ineffective and led to complications, including acid reflux and difficulty swallowing. Although a popular technique at one time, gastric banding surgery has declined in use nationally over the past decade, as a result of such postsurgical complications. Sentara Martha Jefferson no longer offers the procedure.
In April 2019, a surgeon removed Feagan’s lap band, and two months later she began a six-month program for gastric bypass surgery at Sentara Martha Jefferson. These preoperative visits, required for all patients preparing for weight-loss surgery, include monthly weight checks and consultations with a dietitian.
“It was nice to be able to develop a relationship with the team members at Sentara Martha Jefferson,” Feagan says. “They encouraged me, answered all my questions and provided me with a cohesive plan to help me complete my weight-loss journey.”
Timothy Snow, DO, of Sentara Martha Jefferson Medical & Surgical Associates, performed Feagan’s gastric bypass surgery in December 2019. The procedure involves creating a new, smaller pouch out of the patient’s stomach. Then the small intestine is divided, and the upper portion is attached to this new stomach pouch. This rerouting enables food to pass directly into those cavities and then into the middle section of the small intestines.
“This procedure not only limits how much a person can eat, but also the amount of food and nutrients that can be absorbed by the body,” notes Dr. Snow.
At her first preoperative consult in June 2019, Feagan weighed 236 pounds. By November 2020, her weight was down to 163.
“My experiences at Sentara Martha Jefferson—from the very first surgery in 2009 to the most recent one in 2019—have been very positive,” says Feagan, who also is grateful for the support of her husband, Brian, and daughter, Charlotte. “I have been so impressed with everyone at the hospital—they are fantastic and really encouraging. And now my energy level is so much greater than before!”
Weight Loss Restores Confidence and Joy
For Shelley Shifflett, weight control has been a constant struggle since the birth of her first child 19 years ago. Since that time, she has tried a number of popular weight-loss plans, including the South Beach Diet, Atkins Diet and Weight Watchers. Nothing seemed to work for her, however, so in June 2019 she began her own journey toward weight-loss surgery.
“I just got tired of looking at myself in the mirror and being unhappy with what I saw,” says Shifflett, 47, of Zion Crossroads. “And not being able to keep up with my 4-year-old daughter was distressing. I want to be around longer for my kids.”
Shifflett began the six-month preoperative regimen in June 2019, weighing in at 327 pounds. By the time she went in for gastric sleeve surgery (also known as a sleeve gastrectomy) in December 2019, her weight was down slightly to 319.
Lane Ritter, MD, of Sentara Martha Jefferson Medical & Surgical Associates, performed the minimally invasive procedure, which involves reducing the size of the stomach by approximately 75 percent and creating a new pouch about the size and shape of a banana. This reduction restricts the amount of food the patient can eat at one time.
“Shelley went through the required preoperative medical workup, including an upper endoscopy,” Dr. Ritter explains. “This imaging test involves using a scope that goes down the esophagus and looks around in the stomach for abnormalities or signs of long-term acid reflux. There were no signs of ongoing problems, so Shelley was a good candidate for the gastric sleeve procedure. The outcomes of a sleeve gastrectomy are comparable to those of a gastric bypass, without the small added risks that go along with the more involved bypass procedure.”
By December 2020, Shifflett’s weight was down to 217 pounds, and she was able to stop taking medication for high blood pressure.
Previously an avid runner as a teenager, Shifflett is now back to running four to six miles each day. She has done numerous races since her surgery, including the Jingle All the Way Virtual 5K and the Surf-n-Santa 5 Miler in Virginia Beach, and is currently training for the Princess Marathon at Walt Disney World in February 2022.
Shifflett appreciates the support given to her by the Sentara Martha Jefferson bariatric surgery team, noting that the whole process has been life-changing for her.
“It’s been awesome,” says Shifflett, who also is grateful for the encouragement from her husband, Joe, and her two children. “The biggest impact on my life is that I now have so much more energy. I’m so much happier than I was before.”
A New Life After Losing Nearly 200 Pounds
Benjamin Cole has an adventurous spirit—but for most of his life, obesity limited the types of activities he could enjoy.
“That instinct for adventure has always been there, but for as long as I can remember, it was curbed by the limitations of what my body was physically capable of doing,” says Cole, 30, of Charlottesville. “I would often think that if I tried to do something physical, my body might let me down—and then I’d be miserable.”
In June 2019, Cole decided to pursue gastric sleeve surgery at Sentara Martha Jefferson. At his first preoperative consultation, he weighed 367 pounds.
“I took steps toward bariatric surgery once I decided with all my heart and soul that I could commit myself to the lifestyle changes I would need to make,” says Cole, an actor who toured two seasons with National Players of Olney, Md. “Everyone on the bariatric surgery team at Sentara Martha Jefferson was so wonderful and supportive of my efforts. I felt like they cared about me personally.”
By the day of his gastric sleeve surgery in January 2020, Cole had lost more than 100 pounds. As of December 2020, Cole weighed 180 pounds, for a total loss of 187 pounds—more than half his previous body weight.
“Even before his surgery, Ben persisted in making the nutritional and lifestyle changes necessary to sustain weight loss for the long term,” says Dr. Snow. “Thanks to his efforts, he is setting himself up for better health in the future.”
With newfound energy and confidence, Cole now enjoys a variety of outdoor activities. He recently completed an externship at the Wildlife Center of Virginia, working as part of the center’s wildlife rehabilitation team and assisting with day-to-day care of the animals.
“That was incredibly physical work—the type of thing I couldn’t have done a year ago,” Cole says. “This whole weight-loss experience has been transformational. The greatest joy has been realizing that I’m able to lead a more active lifestyle without worrying that my body is going to sabotage me. Those are the moments when I feel happiest about this decision—when I’m experiencing the gift of having a body that does what I want it to do.”
Our Award-Winning Program
Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital’s Bariatric Care Center is accredited as a Comprehensive Center under the Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Accreditation and Quality Improvement Program (MBSAQIP®), indicating our excellence in patient outcomes and long-term success. Additionally, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield has bestowed upon our program the Blue Distinction® Center+ for Bariatric Surgery designation.
Interested in weight-loss surgery? For more information, call 434-654-5260.
Martha Jefferson Foundation Donors Fund Helpful Weight-Loss App
For patients undergoing weight-loss surgery, making a commitment to nutritional and lifestyle changes can be daunting. Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital’s customized smartphone app, Baritastic, helps to ease that process by providing a way for patients to keep track of calories, nutrition and exercise each day. Patients also may use the app to connect with the Sentara Martha Jefferson Bariatric Program and keep track of follow-up appointments and support groups.
The app was made possible through generous donations to the Martha Jefferson Hospital Foundation from the Doloris C. and John B. Thomas Endowed Fund for the Prevention and Treatment of Obesity, established by Jim Thomas and his late wife, Doloris. The couple donated in memory of Jim’s brother, Barry, who struggled with obesity for decades until the disease finally took his life. After Doloris died in 2014, Jim made an additional gift to the Martha Jefferson Hospital Foundation in her memory and added her name to the fund.
“As patients track their nutrition, exercise and weight loss through the Baritastic app, they can begin to implement healthy habits that are sustainable for the long-term,” says Gina Mitchell, PA-C, coordinator for the Sentara Martha Jefferson Bariatric Program. ”This is a meaningful way for Jim Thomas to honor the memory of his loved ones.”
Ben Cole, 30, of Charlottesville, started using Baritastic in June 2019, when he began the preoperative process for gastric sleeve surgery. He has continued using the app since his procedure in January 2020, now having lost a total of 190 pounds.
“A lot of the nutritional information is already available within the app, so it’s very easy to keep track of everything you’re consuming,” Cole says. ”It’s an intuitive tool, and it helped make my weight-loss journey much easier.”