Overweight since age 5, Ashley always said that her preferred superpower, if given the option, would be invisibility. Today, the nurse at UC Health’s West Chester Hospital now embraces the experiences she once avoided.
Ashley lost 100 pounds since her gastric sleeve surgery at West Chester Hospital on Dec. 29, 2014. “The little things make all the difference in the world: Higher self-confidence, traveling without worrying about spilling into another person’s seat, sitting comfortably at the theater and even crossing my arms and legs,” she said.
Jonathan R. Thompson, MD, bariatric surgeon and medical director of the UC Health Weight Loss Center and assistant professor in the Department of Surgery at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, says gastric sleeve surgery is an incredible option for many patients.
“The sleeve provides appetite suppression through our body’s normal biology — it is not a drug, there is no band, port, tubing or foreign body involved. In addition, there is no bypass, making it the safest option long term,” Dr. Thompson explained.
Surgeons create a sleeve-like shape out of the patient’s stomach, reducing its size by about 80%. The minimally invasive, laparoscopic surgery provides powerful appetite suppression and can last for a lifetime. Unlike bypass procedures, gastric sleeve surgery doesn’t require as many vitamins, aside from the normal recommended daily multivitamin and a balanced diet. The sleeve anatomy is also easy for surgeons to revise into a bypass operation if needed in the future.
For patients like Ashley, gastric sleeve surgery has enabled her to enjoy a happier, healthier life. “Initially I didn’t want the surgery because I thought it would label me as a failure, that I was unable to control the choices I made with food,” she said. “There was a point where I was nearly 300 pounds at age 25, and I realized I needed to humble myself; that it was OK to seek help.”
Although the procedure has positive outcomes, it is not a quick fix. Dr. Thompson urges patients to regard gastric sleeve surgery as one of many tools for weight loss. “These surgeries aren’t automatic; they require continued focus and effort,” he said.
Typically, patients of gastric sleeve surgery lose between 50-60% of their excess weight within the first year after surgery.
“Long-term weight loss is much more about your health habits, fitness and diet than it is about the surgery you have,” Dr. Thompson said.
More than 40% of U.S. adults have obesity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity-related conditions are the leading causes of preventable death, including certain types of cancer, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Since her procedure, Ashley said she was shocked by the void caused by appetite suppression. “I didn’t realize how much of my life was centered around food. It really was an addiction. Food was my comfort, and I discovered that I needed to find something else to fill my time.”
Ashley is an avid crafter, keeping her hands busy creating things, and she spends time training herself how to eat properly. She also walks her mother’s dog, Coco, every day through all seasons to stay fit.
“I’m more conscious about the quality of foods that I eat,” Ashley said. “The foods I choose have to be worthwhile and it’s ultimately my choice — nobody is preventing me from putting a candy bar in my mouth.”
With a dedicated weight loss plan, most patients are able to use the gastric sleeve surgery as the start of a long and healthy lifestyle. “It’s OK if you aren’t able to lose weight on your own. People like Dr. Thompson are here to help; we are not alone in the struggle of weight loss,” Ashley said. “There are many resources available to you.”
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ashley often volunteered her time to speak at the Weight Loss Center’s free informational seminars. She enjoys sharing her personal story and the success she has seen and maintained over time.