Woman gains healthier lifestyle after weight loss surgery

A nurse at Elkhart General Hospital talks about life after bariatric surgery.

Posted on July 16, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on July 16, 2013 at 3:40 p.m.

ELKHART — Over the past year, Heather Stears has experienced an incredible amount of loss, but she doesn’t mind one bit.

Stears has lost roughly 100 pounds since April 2012 when she underwent bariatric surgery. She had tried to manage her weight on her own for years, working out with personal trainers and counting every calorie, but the pounds always came back.

“After a year and half of going backwards really, I was at the point where I was wondering what else was out there,” Stears said.

As a nurse at Elkhart General Hospital, Stears knew that surgery was an option, but she wasn’t sure whether it was the right choice. For six months leading up to her surgery, she consulted with Dr. Eric Knapp, medical director of the EGH Bariatric and Metabolic Institute.

Knapp regularly meets with new patients to determine whether they qualify for a bariatric procedure. Generally, candidates for surgery must be at least 100 pounds overweight or have a body mass index — or BMI — of 40 or higher, Knapp said. Stears was 260 pounds when she met with Knapp for the first time, though her heaviest weight was around 320 pounds.

Stears talked extensively with Knapp about the pros and cons of surgery, sought advice from dieticians and even met with people who had gone through bariatric operations. Three months later, she decided on a surgical procedure, an adjustable gastric band that would buckle around the upper part of her stomach to create a small pouch, allowing her to feel full sooner. The band, Knapp said, is the least invasive type of bariatric surgery, but it is statistically the least effective.

“But with that said, the average weight loss is 50 percent, so of the extra pounds you have to lose, you can expect to do away with about half of that,” Knapp said.

The band is not right for everyone, Knapp said. Some patients choose to reroute their small intestine or have part of their stomach removed. A gastric band, he said, requires a lot of post-surgery self-discipline.

“The band takes more self-awareness,” Stears said. “My personality has made this a successful choice for me.”

Stears knew that she would have to drastically change her diet after surgery, so she prepared for three months before she was due in the operating room.

“I kind of suffered through those three months, but I learned what I was going to eat and how I was going to prepare my food,” she said. “These are things I never had to think about.”

Following medical guidelines, Stears taught herself to eat slowly and experimented in her kitchen by cooking meals with pureed food. Her favorite recipe was chicken, hummus and eggs mixed to the consistency of baby food and baked.

“I still eat it to this day,” she said.

Though it has been a year since her surgery, Stears continues many of the habits she picked up during the weeks following her procedure. She eats small portions, drinks lots of water and pays extra attention to the amount of protein, fruits and vegetables on her plate. She exercises regularly, keeping active by running in half marathons and training horses at her home in Constantine, Mich.

At 164 pounds, Stears has lost more weight than any other of Knapp’s bariatric patients at EGH.

“One thing I like to stress to anyone who asks me questions about my surgery is that this choice was not easy, and the road to get where I am has been one full of dedication, self-awareness and making the right choices of food, exercise, sleep and even work,” Stears said.

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