For Rick Nelson of Minot and Chris Williamson of Williston, weight loss surgery was a physician-recommended way to alleviate health conditions by helping them shed extra weight they were unable to lose on their own. Dr. Brent Bruderer, general and bariatric surgeon at Medcenter One in Bismarck, performs gastric bypass and adjustable gastric bandsurgery to help patients achieve weight loss success.
"Some people think that weight loss surgery is just for cosmetic reasons, but surgery is performed strictly for health reasons like high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea and joint degeneration problems," Bruderer said.
"When your weight is controlled and gets in the normal range, most of those problems either go away or are much better controlled," he added.
To be a candidate for a weight loss surgery, a patient has to have participated in prior supervised weight loss programs without success, have a medical condition that indicates a need for the surgery, and have undergone a psychological evaluation to prove they understand what the surgery will entail. Candidates also must be approximately 100 pounds overweight.
"It's a life saving and life changing operation for them. It does change everything in their life," Bruderer said.
The patients themselves can attest to that.
Chris Williamson of Williston had contracted a lung disease in the late 90s and rapidly gained weight due to steroid use to treat the disease, and because he couldn't exercise with a lung capacity of only 60%. Williamson also developed heart problems.
"I was full blown disabled when my doctor here in town suggested weight loss surgery. I wasn't able to breathe properly, I couldn't walk across a room without huffing and puffing. I couldn't do virtually anything. Weight loss surgery was almost a last resort for me. I needed to get the weight off, it was either that or they needed to do heart surgeries and everything else," Williamson said.
Williamson underwent surgery in December of 2005. At the time he weighed 402 pounds.
"I didn't look at myself as being obese then, but once you look back at your picture, you think wow, I was. I'd love to have been able to lose the weight naturally but that wasn't in the cards for me. I didn't have that option," Williamson said.
After surgery, Williamson spent three days in the hospital, and he healed quickly afterwards. He closely followed the diet plan he was given and the weight started to come off. His lung disease went into total remission, as did his heart problems.
"I was able to get off disability and start working in the oil fields. This year, I was able to start my own company. I feel like I've had another shot at life again. Before the surgery I was almost resolved to the fact that I was going to be disabled for the rest of my life, at only 41 years old," Williamson said.
Rick Nelson of Minot had high blood sugar, high cholesterol and extremely high blood pressure. He knew that diabetes ran in his family, which also worried him. He decided to check into weight loss surgery after visiting a seminar in Minot.
"It was getting hard for me to do my job, to bend over and kneel. I couldn't play with my grandkids and I hurt bad - my knees, my hips and my back. I just decided something needed to be done," Nelson said.
Nelson was at 338 pounds the day his surgery was scheduled in March of 2009. He recalled a moment of self doubt days before his surgery.
"I was sitting at the kitchen counter. For a couple of minutes I had this self doubt that maybe I was doing the wrong thing, because I knew that in three days my life was about to change. I thought, I've got to go through with it because I don't want to live the rest of my life like this," Nelson said.
"I just looked at my belly hanging there, and I made up my mind that I was going to do it," he added.
After his surgery, Nelson also closely followed the diet plan and changed his lifestyle. He has since dropped down to 206 pounds. His recovery time went quickly. He had his surgery on a Tuesday, and woke up Thursday and went walking at the mall.
"I started walking at the mall that Thursday and I haven't quit doing that since," Nelson said.
"I started taking care of myself, eating right, reading labels in the store and checking everything. I really enjoy my exercising, too, I started walking and now I can even jog. My whole lifestyle has changed for the better," Nelson said.
Bruderer explained that weight loss surgery isn't a magic bullet, and that patients must be willing to follow the guidelines after surgery to ensure success. Patients should also consider whether gastric bypass or an adjustable gastric band is the better option for them.
"They have to ask themselves how much weight they need to lose to obtain the goal that they're looking for, and define what that goal is. It may be to get off insulin, to be able to work again, or to get off blood pressure medications," Bruderer said.
Bruderer explained that gastric bypass patients often lose the most weight, between 60 to 80 percent of their total weight is lost. Those who have adjustable gastric bands placed lost 40 to 60 percent of their weight. Having an adjustable gastric band placed has a lower rate of complications than gastric bypass surgery.
"Those who have a gastric band placed generally go home that same day or overnight, and are able to be back to work in a week. Those who have gastric bypass surgery usually stay in the hospital for 3 days and go back to work after 2 weeks. The patient has to decide what they want in the long term, if they need a higher amount of weight loss gastric bypass might be a better option," Bruderer said.
Free weight-loss surgery information session
For people interested in more information, Dr. Brent Bruderer will host a free information session on weight-loss surgery Wednesday, September 15 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Holiday Inn-Riverside, 2200 Burdick Expressway in Minot.
Bruderer will review the basic concepts of obesity, provide an overview of weight-loss surgery options and discuss patient requirements necessary to be eligible for surgery. For more information about the session or to register, call Medcenter One at 701-323-5530 or 800-932-8758, ext 5530.