Less than two years ago, Sarah Ketcham weighed 170 pounds more than she does now. She went in for gastric bypass surgery, and said that with the physical changes came so many more emotional and mental changes, all for the better.
Dr. Amir Moazzez, a Bariatric surgeon of excellence at Inova Fair Oaks Hospital in Fairfax, said a common misconception is that gastric bypass surgery is an easy way out. The preparations require a great deal of commitment, and the follow-up "lasts a lifetime," he said.
"It's a permanent change in your anatomy," said Moazzez. "You're never going to be able to eat the same way anymore."
Ketcham, 28, gathered with more than 100 other Bariatric patients at Inova Fair Oaks Hospital in Fairfax, Saturday, Sept. 16, at 7 a.m. to walk together to raise money for research and education for obesity. The Walk From Obesity included current, past and future patients, all of them smiling about the changes they were making in their lives.
“I don’t think surgeons have ever made such an impact on people,” said Moazzez. “Their lives have all changed, across the board.”
Each walker asked for sponsors to help them raise money for Bariatric education, research, prevention and treatment, in an effort to help reduce the 400,000 deaths that occur each year because of obesity.
For many dieters who have tried what seems like every diet under the sun, the decision is an easy one. Ketcham, a schoolteacher at White Oaks Elementary School in Burke, had been overweight her entire life, and wanted to take control and combat the problem.
“It was the best decision I ever made,” said Ketcham.
The decision didn't come without risk, though. Moazzez said he makes sure all of his patients attend one of his free educational seminars about the surgery before coming into the office for the first consultation. Each patient must go through two months of preoperative tests and preparations. He then goes over all of the risks with his patients before the actual surgery.
Eligibility for the surgery is determined by a person's body mass index (BMI). If it is greater than 40, which translates to about 100 pounds overweight, people generally qualify. People with a BMI of 35 or higher can usually qualify if they suffer from weight-related health problems, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, said Moazzez. The surgery is just a tool to fix these problems, though, he said. Patients must continue to work hard at their diet and exercise routines forever.
FOR MANY OF the patients, the 5-kilometer walk was something they could have never done before the surgery. Ernie Gibson, of Sterling, weighed 424 pounds and suffered from diabetes and sleep apnea, among other things. Now he said he’s active all the time: from hiking to swing dancing, he is always on his feet. Like Ketcham, Gibson said it’s the best decision he’s ever made.
“It’s a life-long commitment,” said Gibson. “Like an alcoholic, you have to fight the addiction, except you can’t abstain from food.”
Inova Fair Oaks was recently named a center of excellence by the American Society for Bariatric Surgery (ASBS). About 170 hospitals share this distinction nationwide, and it's something of which the hospital is proud, said Nancy Golden, spokesperson for Inova Fair Oaks. The distinction means the hospital meets or exceeds the ASBS criteria, including proper equipment, furniture and specially trained staff members. Another great thing about it, she said, is that insurance companies generally support centers of excellence more for Bariatric procedures.
Many Bariatric patients are covered by insurance, but they are often denied as well. Frank Cayer of Vienna paid for his surgery himself. He had a stomach banding procedure instead of gastric bypass, but it still cost him around $16,000. He said he came into some money through an inheritance. The cost of the surgery was a small price to pay for his life, he said.
“I need to be an example to my kids,” said Cayer. “What am I going to do with $16,000 in the bank if I’m not going to be here to spend it?”
Cayer has lost about 50 pounds since last December and said his energy has increased tremendously. He said he wouldn’t touch the gastric bypass procedure, which is why he chose the arthroscopic banding surgery. His food portions are now half of what they were, and he walks on the treadmill for about three hours a week.
The support groups at the hospital, made up of patients, friends, doctors and staff, help get many patients through the experience. The groups meet to provide guidance and advice to each other, a perk Gibson said is invaluable. Gibson also uses online support groups, and said the extra help gets him through the particularly tough points.
“I have friends that hold me accountable, and I want them to hold me accountable,” said Gibson. “But you have to do it for yourself; it’s not to please anyone else.”