Bariatric Surgery Success Stories in Denver

For every individual who has undergone bariatric surgery at the Colorado Bariatric Surgery Institute, there is truly a compelling story with lessons to be learned.  These are stories of people with courage and vision who challenge themselves to improve the health and quality of their life. Following are testimonials from some of our CBSI family of patients–read and reflect on what a powerful and favorable impact surgery has had for them.

The Promise Of Bariatric Surgery

You could be obese and go scuba diving-while there would be issues that you’re concerned about (ie, heart risk), you could still do it. For me-not in a million years would I have ever gone through the embarrassment of getting in the pool and getting into one of those wetsuits! But, just look at me now!!!
You could be obese and go scuba diving-while there would be issues that you’re concerned about (ie, heart risk), you could still do it. For me-not in a million years would I have ever gone through the embarrassment of getting in the pool and getting into one of those wetsuits! But, just look at me now!!!

I truly believe there is discrimination in our society against obese people. It’s very unfair. Sometimes I think I even have some of it in myself, since I’ll occasionally look at someone who is obese and ask, “Why don’t they do something?” While I was relatively successful in my career, I always felt that other people were getting promoted and good things were happening for them. It sounds a bit like sour grapes, but I really felt that way. Perhaps looking back, it was a factor that motivated me to do something positive.

I truly bobbed up and down in weight-that was my history. I went on Oprah Winfrey’s Optifast diet and I lost over 100 lbs and then gained all the weight back up to 320 lbs. I will never forget standing in Dr. Brown’s office and asking him, “Do I have any choice accept to go through with this surgery?” The thought of surgery was just so unappealing.

He said, “You’ve repeatedly demonstrated that you are an up and down dieter. You clearly are part of the 95% group of people that lose a lot of weight, then gain it back, and usually gain more than they lost. You’re destined to a lifetime of that unless you can demonstrate that you are part of that 5% that can lose it and keep it off.”. So, we scheduled surgery.

It has made me a much happier person. I like where my career has gone. I like the way I feel, how I look in clothes. My wife teases me because I’m the shopper in the family and I like nice clothes, and frankly I need them for my job. Also, when I had the surgery we already had a little 6-month-old baby and I really wanted him to have a normal Dad who was active. And, I wanted to live longer. Now, all those wishes are realities for me. Now I ski 30-40 days a year, I ride my bike, I’m scuba certified, and we hike. My son has no idea that his Dad used to be a big guy. In fact, it’s part of my life I’m a little bit ashamed of . I’m very proud I did the surgery, for it has truly been a life changing experience.

I’m also so fortunate to have an incredible wife. She is so fit, normal, and healthy, and although she did fall in love with me when I was a big guy (which is wonderful thing!), she is very proud of me and happy that I’m there now to walk with her and do things I just didn’t enjoy doing before. I’m here now for a long-time to come-that’s another thing Dr. Brown told me, “you just don’t see many morbidly obese people who live past 70,” so when you’re close to 50 like I am, 70 doesn’t seem that far off.

Honestly, you truly have to get to a point of desperation. It would be nice if people could just come to the logical conclusion that they have to do something about their obesity, but it doesn’t really work that way. I believe you finally have to fail enough times and come to a realization that you must accept. I have a cousin who is a candidate and interested in the surgery, but she just can’t get the courage up to go through it. I’ve encouraged her, and shared with her how it has changed my life, and how it is just a wonderful experience to have people treat you differently-like a normal person instead of an obese person. It is a chance to close a chapter on something that no obese person is happy being-because there’s nobody that’s fat that likes being fat. Since the surgery I’ve even had people say to me, “boy it’s nice that you’ve been thin all your life.” For people contemplating surgery, believe me, it’s truly the opportunity to start over in your life.

I’m not trying to brag, but I do look incredibly well. I’m a successful business man for whom appearance is really critical. I appreciate every day what Dr. Brown did for me.

Married Couple Celebrates 41st Anniversary -250 Pounds Lighter

Married Couple Celebrates 41st Anniversary -250 Pounds Lighter
Bev and Mel West share a healthy meal while sitting comfortably – finally – in a booth at their favorite restaurant. The couple lost a combined 247 pounds since their surgeries in 2002. Together they are the picture of health and are happily celebrating 41 years of love and marriage.

When Bev and Mel West married in 1963, Bev weighed 153 pounds. After the wedding bells and the birth of their two children, Bev remembers, “I never saw that number again.” Both she and Mel, whom himself had battled weight gain all of his life, tried every diet on the market. While they would lose the weight, it inevitably came back. Each passing year brought more pounds.

The couple also began experiencing health problems like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and for Bev, bone loss in her left knee. Finally,  when Mel’s weight had reached 344 pounds, and Bev’s was 308, Mel said to Bev, “We’ve got to do something.”

The retired couple decided to move forward with gastric bypass surgery, a procedure both had become familiar with thanks to celebrity success stories, as well as the couple’s own research.

After learning about the Bariatric Surgery Program at P/SL and surgeon Tom Brown, MD, Mel and Bev began all the necessary steps for surgery, including nutrition class, psychological testing, and various medical work-ups.

Through it all, Bev said, “I had no doubts. I was ready!” Also understanding the risks of surgery, Mel stated, “I couldn’t live with the alternative. The weight was going to end up killing me.”

The couple was scheduled for surgery one month apart. As Mel prepared for his big day, Bev supported him by fasting right along with him the required 72 hours before his surgery. Bev later underwent her Roux-en-Y Gastric Bypass (RYGB) about a month later.

Both of their stomachs were surgically converted into a tiny pouch about one to two ounces in size. While Mel was simply very sleepy after surgery, the recovery for Bev was more uncomfortable. Her anatomy did not allow for the laparoscopic operation. She didn’t have much of an appetite either. In fact the consistent diet of broth, sugar-free Jello, and hot tea that she started on soon after surgery even created thoughts of “I have to eat again!” Gradually, Bev’s appetite returned, and she and Mel both quickly returned to their normal routines. Mel was soon outside doing his yard work. “I could bend down and do so much more than before,” he said.

While Bev is still not a big fan of Jello, her new tiny stomach has helped her lose 142 pounds.

She is even off all of her medications for high blood pressure, and says her knee is a little better to. She’s also replaced her wardrobe. “This absolutely feels so wonderful,” said Bev. Her husband lost 105 pounds and declared his life is, “Like night and day.”

For Bev and Mel, going through the surgery process together provided an excellent source of support. “I watch what he eats; he watches what I eat,” said Bev.

Support like this helped the couple through 41 years of marriage, and when they celebrated their anniversary this year, each was at a lower weight than when they said “I do” the first time. Their advice for anyone considering gastric bypass is, “Go for it!”

Having the Time of Her Life after Taking Back Control

Having the Time of Her Life after Taking Back Control
She is now enjoying life, exercising and swimming daily-and anxiously awaiting her first grandchild. Bariatric surgery patient Jacque Chastain says looking better is only one benefit of the surgery. Having lost 112 since her surgery at P/SL on July of 2003, she says, “Feeling good and enjoying living my life is the greatest benefit of all.”

When Jacque Chastain’s only daughter informed her mother that grandchildren would have to wait three to five years until her career was established, Jacque feared she would not live long enough to see them.

At 313 pounds, Jacque battled weight problems all her life. Other major health issues had also resulted from the obesity: high blood pressure, sleep apnea, high cholesterol, joint pain, borderline diabetes, and a sad, overall state of depression.

After years of research, Jacque found Tom Brown, MD at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center, who specializes in bariatric surgery. Jacque underwent a Roux-en-Y Gastric Bypass (RYGB), which surgically converted her stomach into a tiny pouch about one to two ounces in size. Recovery came without a lot of pain, since Dr. Brown performed her surgery laparoscopically (a minimally invasive technique).

This allows fewer incisions and intrusion to the body. For about a month after surgery, Jacque ate only a liquid diet of broth, Jello and protein drinks. Later, additional foods were added. It has now been 18 months since her surgery. Jacque has lost a total of 136 pounds, and she is still losing. Of course, this required a change in wardrobe. But while others may enjoy shopping after surgery, Jacque still finds herself heading to the plus size department.

“I don’t know where I belong anymore!” She is extremely dedicated to her surgery decision – even driving up to six hours-and over two daunting mountain passes – just to attend the monthly support groups offered through the Bariatric Surgery Program at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center in Denver. Jacque is thrilled with her wonderful results and the recovery she experienced. Happily, her other health problems also have resolved because of her surgery and lifestyle changes. In fact, she no longer has to take any prescription medications. “Looking better is only one benefit.

Feeling good and enjoying living my life is the greatest benefit of all.” Still, she realizes the seriousness of bariatric surgery, and encourages others to be very careful in making the decision to have surgery. “Do your own research, and make the decision based on what you are willing to do to lose weight,” she suggests. For herself, Jacque recognizes that, “I did this to save my life. Food was not my friend. It was killing me. Without the surgery, I knew I was going to die way too soon.”

Busy Enjoying New Life

Russel Smith of Denver playfully models his leaner, trimmer body in a sport Mini. Smith dropped from a size 54 to a size 40 thanks to his bariatric surgery at P/SL.
Russel Smith of Denver playfully models his leaner, trimmer body in a sport Mini. Smith dropped from a size 54 to a size 40 thanks to his bariatric surgery at P/SL.

Russel Smith weighed 324 pounds when he finally decided to undergo bariatric surgery. His years of morbid obesity had resulted in other health problems, such as acid reflux, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol. Russel was taking eight pills a day, and 100 units of insulin. Additionally, Russel had been told that he was a good candidate for a heart attack or stroke, and he would probably would need a knee replacement within five years.

Bariatric surgeon, Thomas Brown, MD, explained the risks of the stomach surgery to Russel: bowel or stomach leaks, ulcers, gallstones, and other possibilities related to any major abdominal operation, such as blood clots or infection. “The risk of not doing it – dying from this weight – is far greater than any risks of doing it,” says Russell.

Just two months after first inquiring about gastric bypass, Russel had his surgery. Prior to his surgery, he received all the necessary testing and medical work-ups. His wife was very supportive, while his immediate family voiced their concerns, asking him, “Are you crazy?”

Still, Russel pressed on. “I was ready to make a life change.”

All looked well immediately after surgery. But two days later, concerns of a stomach leak took Russel back in for surgery. Although no leak was found, his post-operative course was complicated by pneumonia and a blood clot to the lung – common risks associated with obese patients and their already severely compromised health.

Today, Russel is 96 pounds lighter and still losing. He has gone through two wardrobes, reducing from a size 54 to a size 40. The majority of his medical problems have disappeared as well – he only takes one pill a day now for high blood pressure. “I have more energy than I ever thought I’d have,” stated Russel. “I’m so happy.”

Post-Bariatric Surgery: Meet Mitch

Why did you decide to have bariatric surgery?

health issues lead to roux-en-y surgeryI distinctly remember the events that led to my decision to have Roux-En-Y Surgery. I had taken the day off to have a basic checkup with my primary care doctor and get an eye exam. One of the first things my primary care doctor did was take my blood pressure. She told me my blood pressure was 160/110 and that I needed to immediately go on high blood pressure medications. Two hours later, I was getting my eyes examined for a new pair of glasses, and after a full dilation and health check of my eyes, my doctor told me my left eye was showing some early signs of the affects of high blood pressure and if not treated, it could lead to blindness. At this point, I was very scared and knew that I needed to do something about my weight. I called my primary care doctor and she put me in touch with Dr. Brown’s office.

Tell us about your surgery and early progress.

My surgery came about 5 months later. I fasted for 4 days before the surgery and tried to prepare myself for the new way of life. The surgery seemed to go great, but I developed some complications that required a 2nd surgery 4 days later. It was a tough time, and I questioned why I had done surgery, since before that I was a fairly healthy 461 lb person. Thank God for my wife who really was my support and sounding board through the recovery process. Dr. Brown and his team were also incredibly supportive during my recovery—I can’t thank them enough.

I started to feel good enough to go back to work. I worked hard to stick to my eating plan (get in the protein first!) and sure enough, as the time went by I started feeling better and better. The weight was flying off—I was down about 70-80 lbs in the first 2 months or so. Soon,I felt good enough to hire a physical trainer and started working out. This was a great feeling. Imagine that I was once the guy that wouldn’t even walk to the restaurant that was literally 400 feet from my apartment. Now I’m working out and walking on the treadmill!

Now, almost 2 years after surgery, how has your life changed?

Now it’s about 20 months post surgery and I feel great. I’m down a total of about 235 lbs! I went from size 60-62 pants and 5X-6X shirts to a size 40 pant and L/XL shirts. My food intake is SO much healthier than it once was. I drink lots of water, green tea, eat tons of fruit and veggies, and really work to balance out the diet. I still work out 3-6 days per week, depending on my schedule. I try to think of creative ways to get in workouts when I know that I don’t have time. I’ve started to walk back and forth to my office, which is 10 miles round trip. I also started to sing in a rock band again.

Describe one of your finest moments since having bariatric surgery?

One recent interaction is helping me keep motivated. My rock band was playing a gig at the Hyatt DTC. One of my band mate’s friends came up to me in one of the breaks and asked me if I was a cyclist?! I asked why, and she said that my legs look extremely fit and strong—like a cyclist. Can you imagine… just 20 months after my bariatric surgery, I’m being accused of being fit and a cyclist! It doesn’t get much better than that!

Comments from Dr. Brown.

Mitch has been an inspiration to all of us. Not only has he worked hard at accomplishing his weight loss, but he’s been pivotal in our support group by sharing and caring about other patients. Mitch did have some complications early on, but came through well. Clearly, his decision to have weight loss surgery was the right choice, for Mitch is NOW a healthy 225 lb person who is enjoying life and all it has to offer! Congratulations, Mitch— keep it up!

Undergoing Bariatric Surgery: A Gift to a Family

Undergoing Bariatric Surgery: A Gift to a Family
The Nieto family, all wearing Dad’s old clothes!

Too often, bariatric surgery is viewed as “self”-improvement on the part of the patient. While post-surgery patients do experience dramatic improvement in health and daily life in general, it is often the special people in their life who perhaps benefit the most. We’d like to share a letter (and a family!) that so illustrates how self-less surgery can be.

Dear Dr. Brown,

One year ago my husband and I came to your office for a preoperative appointment. At that time you asked us what we wanted from the procedure. I vividly recall asking you, “To give me my husband back”. Well, November 1st was the one-year anniversary from when you performed my husband’s life saving procedure, and I want to heartfully thank you for giving my husband back to me! Through your guidance and my husband’s hard work, he has shed over 215 pounds and a total of 81 combined inches. My husband now weighs less than he did in junior high school, but more importantly, he has no need for blood pressure or diabetes medication, a machine to aid in his sleep, or faces other serious medical conditions.

I will never forget how your skillful hands, and his ambition and dedication to himself and our family, worked together to guarantee our future. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

Juli Nieto, Wife of Michael and Mother of 4!