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Johns Hopkins Bayview News - Taking the First Step

Fall 2013

Taking the First Step

By: Andrew Walden
Date: October 7, 2013

Bariatric surgery begins patient’s journey to new life


Allison Palmer walking with her dog
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Allison Palmer has come a long way since she decided to change the course of her life.

For most people, the thought of weighing 455 pounds is unimaginable. For Allison Palmer, it was an everyday reality. Palmer had struggled with weight her entire life. Yet, despite serious health issues, she was never motivated to lose the excess weight. Over a period of five years, Palmer’s health deteriorated to the point where she could not walk or stand for more than a few moments at a time. It was then that she realized something needed to be done; her life depended on it.

The Turning Point

With the support of her husband Mark, Palmer began completing the steps required to become an eligible candidate for bariatric surgery (see sidebar). And on October 8, 2009, she underwent gastric bypass surgery performed by bariatric surgeon Michael Schweitzer, M.D. A decision, she said, that saved her life.

Palmer lost weight steadily over the next two years. She reached her goal weight of 189 pounds in October 2011. Her life post-surgery is drastically different than it was before the operation. Palmer now weighs and measures her food portions and carefully plans her meals and snacks in advance. She also shares her weight with friends and family each week as a way to show off her progress and hold herself accountable.

“I used to lie about my weight,” Palmer says. “I never stepped on a scale unless I was forced to. Now I am proud to share my weight. It’s a way of saying ‘look at what I’m doing.’”

Helping Herself by Helping Others

Palmer also continues to be a presence at the same bariatric information sessions she attended before her surgery. The sessions are attended by a variety of people, including bariatric staff, pre-op patients and post-op patients. Some of these patients have maintained their goal weight, while others are struggling to keep off the weight. The sessions are a comfortable forum to ask questions, or simply observe and learn about the process of bariatric surgery. Attendees have told Palmer that hearing her speak is what motivated them to schedule their own surgery dates. “I put myself back in their shoes.” she says, “It’s humbling and inspiring.”

Staying Healthy

One of the most important things to Palmer is her annual follow-up appointment with Dr. Schweitzer. During these visits, Palmer has blood tests to ensure she remains healthy and avoids malnourishment and vitamin deficiency.

“If vitamin deficiencies go untreated they can cause major complications,” says bariatric nurse practitioner Colleen Abell. “Due to the malabsorption involved in the surgery, we teach our patients that they need to take their vitamins for life.”

Vitamin deficiency is not the only threat bariatrics patients face; other nutritional problems that can arise include malnutrition and chronic anemia. Patients with these issues will show symptoms of fatigue, edema and weakness.

Palmer has come a long way since the day she decided to change the course of her life. Nearly four years and 266 pounds later, she is still taking all the necessary steps and precautions to maintain her goal weight. Through weight postings, information sessions and annual follow-ups, she is able to ensure a healthy, manageable lifestyle. Palmer continues to be an inspiration to prospective bariatric patients as they begin the journey toward their goals and happier, healthier lives.

For more information about bariatric surgery, call 410-550-0409 or visit hopkinsmedicine.org/jhbmc/bariatrics.

Are You A Candidate?

To be a candidate for bariatric surgery, a patient must:

  • Be at least 100 pounds overweight
  • Have tracked past attempts at weight loss
  • Show commitment to lifestyle changes
  • Attend information sessions
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