Feature

Weight-Loss Surgery for a New Lease on Life

While the need for improved health and a slimmer appearance lead many overweight people to look into weight-loss surgery (also known as bariatric surgery), other factors—such as a yearning to spend more quality time with family—also can come into play. Wayne Shifflett, who once tipped the scales at 400 pounds and was borderline diabetic, recalls that appearance and health issues were only part of the reason he decided to contact the Sentara RMH Weight Loss Surgery team. The biggest motivator, he says, was the stillborn birth of his granddaughter in 2015.

As a way to honor his granddaughter, Shifflett entered the Sadie Rose Foundation annual fundraiser 5K race in May 2016. A nonprofit based in Dayton, Va., the Sadie Rose Foundation offers one-on-one and peer-led group support for those who have lost a loved one.

“My heart was willing to run the race, but my body was not,” says Shifflett, of Port Republic, Va. “I did three-quarters of a mile and couldn’t go any farther. They had to come get me, and I felt so defeated. That was when I decided to go on a weight-loss journey.”

Although one source of inspiration for Shifflett was to “go back and finish that race,” he had other reasons, too.

“I had two kids, seven grandkids and my wife, and I wanted to be around for a whole lot longer than my body was going to allow me to be,” he says. “I had my physical goals as well, but my ‘heart goal’was to be here for my family.”

The Bariatric Solution

The first thing Shifflett says he learned when he contacted Sentara RMH was that bariatric surgery is not a “magic bullet.” However, when coupled with lifestyle and nutritional changes, it’s a tool that can truly transform lives.

“Bariatric surgery isn’t a quick fix,” says Robert Garwood, MD, medical director of general and bariatric surgery at Sentara RMH. “Having the surgery is the easiest part of the whole deal—it’s just an aid that requires commitment from the patient to make it all work.”

Dr. Garwood recommended that Shifflett have a sleeve gastrectomy, a nonreversible procedure in which about two-thirds of the stomach is removed laparoscopically. The remaining stomach takes the shape of a “sleeve” that limits the amount of food that can be eaten. Sleeve gastrectomy is the procedure Dr. Garwood performs most frequently, although other techniques are available as well. 

Between the day Shifflett made his commitment to the day he was rolled into the operating room—a period of several months—he had to complete a psychological evaluation, attend a weight-loss seminar, keep appointments with Dr. Garwood, have regular counseling sessions with a nurse practitioner and a dietitian, and learn about the lifestyle and nutritional changes that would help make the surgery successful in the long run.

He also learned that weight-loss surgery patients at Sentara RMH must go on a liquid diet for two weeks before and two weeks after the surgery. Shifflett complied with all the requirements, and by February 2019 he had lost about 50 pounds and was on track to have his procedure.

A Commitment Realized

Shifflett initially was a bit nervous about having the surgery, but that anxiety soon dissipated. 

“The entire surgical team was so professional that they put my mind at ease,” he says. “They all introduced themselves and told me what their roles would be during the procedure. I realized these people really cared about me as an individual.”

When he awoke after surgery, the team told him that the sooner he could walk, the more it would help alleviate any pain. Shifflett says he initially struggled to sit up in bed, but he was determined to get moving. 

“They asked me what I was doing,” he recalls. “I said I was going for a walk down the hall. And I did. I started walking shortly after I came off the operating table, and I’ve been walking regularly ever since.”

Shifflett had his surgery on Feb. 4, 2019. Just three months later, on May 4, he again entered the Sadie Rose Foundation 5K race. This time he finished—and has kept going since. In 2019 he completed 10 5Ks and also was able to return to hiking, a longtime passion. On Sept. 21, 2020, he hiked to Old Rag Mountain in Madison, Va.—the state’s “gold standard” for hiking—finishing in five hours, 45 minutes.

Reflecting on his surgery, Shifflett says he would “do it again in a heartbeat.” After beginning his weight-loss journey at 360 pounds, today he weighs 198 pounds and has gone from a size 50 trouser waist down to size 32. As part of his long-term commitment to weight loss, he keeps a careful watch on his diet.

“It’s all about portion control,” he says, “and avoiding those things you know are trouble, like carbs.”

The result is precisely what he wanted: a healthy lifestyle and an extended, active life with his family.

“My grandkids are ages 2 to 9,” he says, “and I can chase every one of them now.”

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Bariatric Surgery Can Be a Game-Changer

Sentara RMH bariatric surgeon Robert Garwood, MD, says prognoses are generally excellent for people who decide to have bariatric surgery and commit to making the needed lifestyle changes. 

“Most patients will lose 70-75% of their excess body weight and see a marked improvement in their overall health and mobility,” he notes. 

Such improvements include enhanced blood sugar control among diabetes patients, a reduction in sleep apnea (to the point where many people are able to get off their CPAP machines), a reduced need for blood pressure medication, and significant improvements in individuals with gastroesophageal reflux disease.

Losing weight through bariatric surgery also can help women who want to get pregnant, since excess weight can negatively affect menstrual cycles and fertility. Cancer patients, too, may experience improvements from weight-loss following a bariatric procedure. 

In addition, patients with orthopedic issues can see significant benefits. “We see a lot of patients who need joint replacements but aren’t eligible due to obesity,” Dr. Garwood adds. “After weight loss, orthopedic outcomes are generally far better for them.”

Perhaps the greatest benefit of bariatric surgery, though, is increased enjoyment of life. 

“People look better, they’re more outgoing with others, and they’re more active with their friends and families,” he says. “Simply put, they enjoy life more.”

Dr. Garwood is medical director of general and bariatric surgery at Sentara RMH Medical Center, as well as Sentara RMH’s chief of surgery and the division medical officer for group surgical services for the Sentara Blue Ridge region.

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To learn more, call Sentara Surgical Specialists at 540-689-5800, or visit Sentara.com. 

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