Taking Back Control
Date: February 3, 2014
Patient achieves weight-loss success with the help of bariatric surgery
Being overweight was a part of life for Stephanie Swords for as long as she could remember. Even as a child, she was obese. Swords occasionally had migraine headaches and suffered from obstructed sleep apnea. Despite that, she didn’t feel many limitations in her life. “I saw myself as the healthiest overweight person,” remembers Swords, now a 30-something living in Essex, Maryland.
When she and her long-term boyfriend began thinking ahead about family planning, Swords wanted to lose weight to be healthier before pregnancy. Over the years she had tried different weight-loss programs, but hadn’t found anything to be effective in helping her lose a lot of weight. After doing some research, she found Michael Schweitzer, M.D., and the Johns Hopkins Center for Bariatric Surgery.
Uncovering the Truth
Swords’ weight was negatively impacting her health more than she knew.
“Stephanie didn’t realize she had fatty liver disease or that her body mass index was over 50, meaning she was super morbid obese,” says Dr. Schweitzer, a bariatric surgeon and director of the Center. Together they decided that Roux-en-Y gastric bypass was the best surgical option for her. Swords had surgery in February 2010.
During this laparoscopic procedure, the stomach is divided into a little pouch the size of an egg that can hold only a small amount of food. The small intestine is then connected to the new pouch. Food doesn’t enter the rest of the stomach or the first part of the small intestine, so the body absorbs less of it. The hormones produced by the stomach and intestine help to decrease appetite and make the patient feel full longer. This helps the patient lose weight in the short-term and keep the weight off over time.
Usually, patients spend two days in the Medical Center after surgery and return to work two weeks later. They’re encouraged to walk soon after surgery, and to resume daily activities once they return home. For a month after surgery, a special diet of liquids and purees helps them to heal while ensuring they get proper nutrition.
A New Way of Life
“For the long run, a healthy diet is a necessity,” says Dr. Schweitzer. “Surgery doesn’t replace healthy eating and exercise.” Physical activity, such as walking, also helps patients lose weight and keep it off while building muscle mass.
Swords was successful in her weight-loss journey because she eats small, healthy portions and exercises. “The number one reason why people regain too much weight after surgery is if they choose to eat bad carbohydrates, such as candy and potato chips,” notes Dr. Schweitzer.
The surgery has changed Swords’ life, and helped her lose more than 150 pounds. “It’s completely different now. I started running and completed my first half marathon!” she explains. She is proud that her healthier lifestyle is spreading to other family members who have lost weight and are cooking more nutritious meals.
Recently, Swords got married. She and her husband are looking forward to many happy, healthy years together.
While bariatric surgery is an important weight-loss tool, it’s not a magic wand. “After surgery, you have to be committed to taking vitamins for the rest of your life,” says Dr. Schweitzer. “Eating out less and avoiding fast food can help. You need to be vigilant with your health and lifestyle.”
As part of the program at the Johns Hopkins Center for Bariatric Surgery, specially trained dietitians work with each patient before and after surgery to teach them new ways to look at food and choose healthy meals and snacks that will provide the nutrition they need. “The dietitians put the numbers in perspective for me, which was helpful. I used their services a lot,” says Swords.
The Center also offers free support group meetings twice a month. “Data supports that regularly attending the support group helps people maintain and continue their weight loss,” says Dr. Schweitzer. Swords has consistently gone to support group meetings for more than two years. “Being a part of the support group keeps me accountable,” she says. “It’s a great resource for information and encouragement.”
Swords advises anyone considering weight-loss surgery to do a lot of research and ask questions. “You have to be honest about your habits and ready to make changes,” she recommends. “It’s a decision only you can make, and you need to commit to the lifestyle changes. That was the key to my success.”
Are You a Candidate for Bariatric Weight-Loss Surgery?
You may quality for bariatric surgery if you:
- Have a body mass index (BMI) of 40 kg/m2 or higher
- Have a BMI of 35 kg/m2 or higher with other obesity-related disease (such as diabetes)
- Are healthy enough for surgery and have tried other weight-loss options
- Are 100 pounds or more overweight
Weight-Loss Surgery Information Session
Multiple information sessions are held monthly for individuals 100 pounds or more overweight who are considering weight-loss surgery. The session is required to receive a consult for bariatric surgery.
For more information or to make an appointment at the Johns Hopkins Center for Bariatric Surgery, visit hopkinsmedicine.org/jhbmc/bariatrics or call 410-550-0409.