Dorothy Brown has been in 'training' for months. She has been prepping for a surgery with the same attention and commitment she might devote to any other hugely important event in her life. She has been reading books, completing online courses, doing research, undergoing psychological counseling, meeting with nutritionists, attending support groups and submitting to medical tests.
All that is to lay the groundwork for a surgical procedure this month that will remove most of her stomach, reshape what is left into a banana-sized 'sleeve,' and help her shed the extra pounds she has struggled with her entire life. In her current state as a morbidly obese 50-year-old, that means losing 145 pounds.
"I am beyond excited. I have made the decision and I feel like I am finally going to do something I have been contemplating for years," said the Carbondale resident, who has opted to have her bariatric surgery at SCL Health St. Mary's Medical Center.
For Brown and others who undergo this type of surgery, all the buildup to the actual procedure is something that SCL Health St. Mary's has made a core part of its bariatric program.
The support around the surgery and the focus on only choosing patients who are committed to doing what is necessary to succeed, is part of the reason SCL Health St. Mary's Bariatric and Metabolic Surgery Center has been awarded a Certificate of Accreditation as a Comprehensive Center for bariatric surgery from the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Accreditation and Quality Improvement Program. That accreditation acknowledges the center's commitment to providing "multidisciplinary, high-quality, patient-centered care."
A subcommittee of that program also recognized that the three surgeons in SCL Health St. Mary's bariatric program; Dr. Jim Hanosh, Dr. Teyen Shiao and Dr. Eric Hanly, are verified surgeons for SCL Health St. Mary's. That recognition was made in partnership with the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery.
"We strive to make sure our patients have access to everything they need to be successful with their weight loss," Hanosh explained about SCL Health St. Mary's push to meet official quality standards and its focus on a comprehensive bariatric program that goes well beyond the operating room.
When a patient comes to the SCL Health St. Mary's center seeking help with weight loss through surgery, he or she is started on the track that can take months, or as much as a year, of preparation. Patients have to undergo all the steps that Brown has taken, including a battery of physical and psychological tests to make sure they are a good fit for bariatric surgery.
Patients learn to start making lifestyle changes prior to surgery and are educated about all aspects of what to expect following the surgery. They learn stomach-altering surgery is just one piece of a 'cure' that will require a lifetime of changes. To help with this, they agree to meet with nutritionists, participate in exercise programs and take part in support groups.
"Studies have shown that these things really can make a difference," Hanosh said.
Studies have also shown that bariatric surgery can help with many other health conditions that can result from obesity; diseases like sleep apnea, diabetes and hypertension.
"It is so gratifying to help patients improve in so many ways. There are no other surgeries that can improve so many issues," Hanosh said.
Hanosh and the other surgeons at SCL Health St. Mary's Bariatric and Metabolic Surgery Center offer three different bariatric surgical options for obesity.
One is a gastric bypass. In this procedure, surgeons make a small pouch in the abdomen that allows food to skip the stomach and go straight to the intestine. The other option is gastric sleeve surgery – the option Brown will have. In this procedure, the surgeon reduces the size of the stomach and shapes the remainder into the 'sleeve.' The third, which is much less commonly used, is called the 'duodenal switch.' That complex procedure uses both the 'sleeve procedure' and an intestinal bypass that together result in a greatly reduced absorption of calories. The bypass in this radical surgery accomplishes that by leaving only a few feet of intestines where food and digestive enzymes meet.
SCL Health St. Mary's bariatric clinic is adding a new employee this month and relocating the clinic to 2440 North 11th Street. This will give patients and physicians easier access to services and make the non-surgical part of these bariatric procedures even stronger.
Jennifer Scheffler is a Ph.D. nurse practitioner who is coming to SCL Health St. Mary's after working in the clinic of Texas bariatric surgeon Dr. Garth Davis. Davis has literally written the book that SCL Health St. Mary's uses as a 'text book' for patients. It is required reading for potential bariatric surgery candidates.
As part of her job, Scheffler will travel around to outlying clinics around the Western Slope where SCL Health St. Mary's gastric surgery patients go to receive pre and post-op nutritional advice and support without having to travel to Grand Junction.
"We are really excited about this new recruit. She has so much experience in the care of bariatric patients," Hanosh said.
Brown said she has taken advantage of the closest services to her, in Rifle. She has attended support group meetings there and met other gastric sleeve patients who have reinforced the notion that the pounds won't melt off magically following surgery.
But after being the "fat kid' in school, yoyo dieting throughout her adult life, and wearing out knee joints with the stress of excess pounds, Brown said she is prepared to put in the work needed to be one of Dr. Hanosh's success stories.
"I am going to be healthy," she said. "I am going to get back to doing things that I want to do – things that have become harder and harder because of my weight. I am going to make it work."
This feature brought to you by SCL Health St. Mary's Medical Center.