Published on February 21, 2013

More Energy For Motherhood After Weight-Loss Surgery

Genesis offers Center of Excellence care

Jennifer Avenarius knew it was time to get serious about losing weight when she played on the floor with her young children and had a hard time getting up.

“I’d be on the floor with them playing with cars and couldn’t just jump up and answer the phone anymore. I’d have to crawl across the floor and help myself up by grabbing onto the couch,” says Avenarius, recalling her former life at 257 pounds.

“I was 35 and thought, ‘I’m too young to be feeling like this.’ “

Avenarius of Dubuque, Iowa remembered being only 105 pounds at her high school graduation. She longed for the stamina she had at age 20, as a mother to her oldest son, Dustin. Back then at 129 pounds, going to the park didn’t wear her out. She didn’t have to worry about fitting into the seat of an amusement park ride. She didn’t feel self-conscious at the swimming pool.

But 15 years and three more kids later, her weight had doubled.

During those years, she quit smoking and replaced cigarettes with sweets. She experienced infertility, which may have been due to her excess weight. She and husband, Mike, adopted their second and third sons, Zack and Nick. She lost a little weight; got pregnant with her fourth son, Reid; and, gained more weight. Her waist grew with her belief that no food left on her sons’ plates should go to waste. She lived on a steady diet of fast food, sweets and carbs.

“The weight sneaks up on you,” she admits. “When it’s 1 pound or so a month, you don’t think so much about it. But when you add that up over 15 years, that’s a lot of weight. I finally decided, ‘Enough is enough.’ It hurt me not to be able to play with my kids anymore.”

As she researched bariatric surgery, she went online through her health insurance company to find a “Bariatric Surgery Center of Excellence.” That’s what led her to the Genesis Center for Weight Management, and she signed up for an introductory education session in April 2011.

That was the first step in a weight-loss journey that would bring her to Roux-en-Y surgery on Jan. 16, 2012 at Genesis Medical Center, Davenport.

Losing 110 pounds

Today after an 110-pound weight loss, she has gone from a size 24 to a size 10 pants. More specifically, she can try on the size 24 pants she wore on the day of her bariatric surgery -- and also fit her sons Nick, 5, and Reid, 2, inside, too.

“I had absolutely no reservations about this surgery,” she says. “It was scary to think about dying from heart disease and diabetes when my kids were young. I just wanted to be healthier.”

Since her weight loss, her cholesterol has dropped 50 points. Gone is the severe acid reflux that caused so much scar tissue in her throat, she was forced her to have vocal cord surgery.

“I was told my acid reflux was so bad, I wouldn’t have a voice left in 10-15 years if I didn’t get it under control,” she says. “My voice is still raspy, but it’s slowly getting better. I don’t have to take acid reflux medication anymore.”

She exercises, something she rarely did when she was so overweight, and is participating in a 10-week fitness challenge at Farrell’s Extreme Bodyshaping in Dubuque.

Her biggest advice for people who are on the fence about whether to have bariatric surgery? Talk to their doctor, and take the first step by attending an introductory education class at Genesis.

“Before we went to the information session at Genesis, my husband was not on board with this at all,” she says. “He thought gastric bypass surgery was ‘an easy way out’ and that you had this surgery and then you were on your own.

“At the session, we learned that bariatric surgery is only a tool to help in your weight loss. The Genesis Center for Weight Management is a program that helps you before, during and after your surgery. That changed my husband’s mind, and he was supportive.”

An ongoing relationship

Patients at Genesis undergo several months of education and have consultations with a 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.

Kathy Crooks, RN, supervisor of the Genesis Center for Weight Management, said the introductory session provides an overview of the program and the three surgical options at Genesis -- Roux-en-Y, sleeve gastrectomy and adjustable gastric banding, all laparoscopic procedures. The center also offers Optifast®, a medically supervised weight loss program of preportioned, calorie-controlled meals, and group support.

“For many, the introductory education class is a turning point,” Crooks says. “They leave so excited, they can’t wait to get started in the program. They’ve done their homework, and many sign up for an appointment before they leave. For others, the class is a dose of reality. They learn that surgery is not the ‘magic bullet’ that will end their weight problems once and for all. Everyone learns weight-loss surgery is only a tool; they must also be an active participant and work to make lifestyle changes with the help of this tool.”

Crooks adds, “Some people take a while to think about it. I’ve had people call me back a year or a year-anda- half after attending an information session. They listened to us and walked away thinking ‘I can do this on my own.’ Later, they finally wrap their arms around it and give us a call.”

Jennifer Avenarius agrees weight-loss surgery is a lifetime commitment. “People often ask me, ‘So when will you be able to eat sugar again?’ I explain this lifestyle is forever. When they ask why I chose to have surgery, I say ‘To be healthy.’ You can live without sugar and so many carbs. That doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally crave them, however.”

In the weeks before her pre-operative diet, she made a list of everything she wanted to eat “one last time.” “I said goodbye to those foods forever and then got over it,” she says. “I’m never going to eat Girl Scout cookies again. I don’t drink soda anymore. I miss all the bread on sub sandwiches but have found restaurants that will put the meat on lettuce as a wrap, instead.”

The focus is on healthier eating -- not on dieting for the rest of your life, Crooks adds. Post-operative patients do have occasional treats; they get full faster and are satisfied on less than they were before surgery.

Every single one of those lifestyle changes have been well worth it, Avenarius says.

“I’m smaller. I’m far more energetic,” she concludes. “I didn’t have the surgery for vanity; I did it because I wanted to be healthy and more active for my family. Being thinner is just an extra perk.”

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