Published on January 04, 2013

Healthier and Happier After Bariatric Surgery

Genesis offers Center of Excellence care

Wendy Niswander never thought bariatric surgery was for her, even after years of struggling with her weight and mounting health problems. She took nine medications each day and uncomfortably carried 239 pounds on her 5-foot, 1-inch frame.

Wendy NiswanderWendy Niswander of rural
Muscatine lost 92 pounds
& was able to stop taking
eight medications with
the help of the Genesis
Center for Weight

Even when her daughter experienced success after gastric bypass surgery, she remained opposed to “surgically altering a part of her body” to lose weight. At the time, surgery seemed drastic. She considered it an easy way out.

That opinion began to change, however, the day Wendy Niswander was diagnosed with borderline diabetes. Immediately, visions of insulin shots, finger-pricking, and the possibility of future health complications ranging from heart disease to amputation scared her enough to look anew at the surgery she had so readily dismissed.

“When I heard ‘borderline diabetes,’ it drove me over the edge,” says Niswander, 60, of rural Muscatine, who has struggled with her weight since fourth grade. “I already had plenty of health issues, but the prospect of diabetes really scared me. I’m adopted, and I don’t know my family’s health history. I thought, ‘Is diabetes something that runs in my family or, is this a condition that surfaced because of my poor eating habits?’

“After countless long conversations with Dr. Pat McCaw of Genesis Health Group, Eldridge, I felt it was something to consider.”

Today, Niswander is down 92 pounds and eight medications. She credits the Genesis Center for Weight Management with restoring her health and energy and helping her to conquer the emotional eating habits that led to her obesity.

“Before I contemplated surgery, I was an emotional eater,” she says. “Being nervous or depressed just accelerated that eating -- from sugary foods to salty foods. So much of my eating was triggered by emotions.”

Weight-loss journey

In 2011, her journey began with a free, informational meeting at the Genesis Center for Weight Management in Davenport. She was so inspired by what she heard, she decided to launch the process that would lead her to gastric bypass surgery in February 2012.

“There was no commitments,” she says of the meeting. “I learned more about the surgical options. I met people who were preparing for surgery and also heard the success stories from people who already had the surgery.

“I felt hope. I felt support. It’s incredible how this surgery can change lives.”

Not an easy way out

Almost immediately, Niswander learned that bariatric surgery -- the lifetransforming path her daughter, Jodi, had taken in 2007 at age 27-- was hardly an easy way out. Instead, this major surgery demands a lifetime of post-surgical compliance.

“This is something we stress to every patient we see,” explains Kathy Crooks, RN, Supervisor of the Genesis Center for Weight Management. “Weight loss surgery is a tool. We can provide the patient with the tool, but they need to be an active participant and use the tool provided to them.”

Patients at Genesis undergo several months of education and have consultations with the surgeon, nursing staff, dietitian, physical therapist, pharmacist and recreational therapist. Psychological evaluations are done through Genesis Psychology Associates.

Only patients who follow the pre-surgery requirements are scheduled for surgery.

“The pre-surgery education made me fully aware of what I’d have to commit myself to, and I knew I could do it,” Niswander says. “It’s a day-to-day struggle with food and drink, and you become 10 times more aware of what you’re putting into your mouth. You have to overcome a lot of mental games.

“I was so used to reaching for the Mountain Dew, chips and M&Ms that I worried about giving up all the foods I’d ever loved. In the end, though, the choice was relatively easy. I chose surgery to avoid Type 2 diabetes.”

The Genesis center offers the region’s most comprehensive surgical weight-loss options: Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, sleeve gastrectomy, and adjustable gastric-band -- all laparoscopic procedures. Last year, the center also became the only program in the region to offer Optifast®, a medically supervised weight-loss program of pre-portioned, calorie-controlled meals and group support.

Last February, Niswander underwent Roux-en-Y surgery performed by Michael Phelps, M.D., FACS.

“There were many people close to me who couldn’t believe I was going to have the surgery,” Niswander says. “Many associate bariatric surgery with weight loss only, but huge health improvements can result from it, as well.”

While the Genesis center offers three surgical options, it is the bypass option that has gained the most attention as a treatment for Type 2 diabetes. “Most of our patients who have Type 2 diabetes prior to surgery leave the hospital after Roux-en-Y off all of their diabetes medications,” Crooks says. “Bypass is remarkably effective for Type 2 diabetes.”

After losing 92 pounds since July 2011 when her journey began, Niswander was amazed at how once-difficult changes in her eating habits had become part of her life. She learned to eat more slowly, chew her food carefully, and eat smaller portions.

Her advice: “If you value your life and health, you have to follow the rules. It gets easier every single day, and the staff at the Center for Weight Management is always there to answer questions and offer support.”

Meanwhile, her life has changed for the better. She can walk into any clothing store and find something that fits. She’s outside more than ever -- planting flowers, raking leaves, or walking her Labrador retriever. Her husband, Arnie, a wonderful cook, has learned to prepare meals more healthfully and has lost 35 pounds as a result.

“Today, my 6- and 9-year old granddaughters will say, ‘Grandma, can we sit down a minute?’ or ‘Can we slow down?’ It used to be the other way around....they couldn’t understand why I didn’t have more energy.”

No longer does she need to take medication for high blood pressure, high cholesterol or acid reflux. “It’s amazing what the surgery can do for you,” she concludes.

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