Munson’s Bariatric Excellence: Up Close and Personal

TRAVERSE CITY – Lois Edson feels like a great weight has been lifted off her – 175 pounds, to be exact.

"I spent about two years researching the surgery and getting real with myself before I did it," says Edson, whose weight had ballooned to 319 pounds. "I knew I needed to drop the weight. I was looking at my future and had health concerns. And my life was changing. I was not active, my zest for life was going away. Is this how I want to live the rest of my life?"

In March 2010, she had surgery performed at Munson Medical Center by Roche "Rocky" Featherstone, M.D. "He was really great," Edson recalls. "This type of surgery is very personal, and it made me feel so much better that I could tell he was so excited for me."

The Traverse City resident now tips the scales at 144 and expects to stay right around 140 for the rest of her life.

She was one of 341 patients helped last year by physicians at Grand Traverse Surgery, which was recently recognized again as a Bariatric Surgery Center of Excellence from the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. Surgeons honored include Featherstone; David Kam, M.D.; Michael Anthony Nizzi, D.O.; and Steven Slikkers, M.D. They have performed more than 2,000 procedures since the program began in 2003. Munson Medical Center was also recognized in the award.

"If Grand Traverse Surgery and Munson hadn't offered this program, I wouldn't have had the surgery," says Edson. "I wouldn't have gone downstate for this."

Edson underwent three months of pre-surgery counseling with Traverse City psychologist Kerri Schroder. "It was as important as the surgery itself," she says. "I learned I was an emotional eater. You have to talk about your life, your upbringing. Growing up, I turned to food for comfort. It became a mindless habit to sooth myself with food. I ate, not when I was hungry, but when I was emotional or for enjoyment or as a social thing."

Growing up in Mancelona, Lois Bonner had been a slim beautiful girl throughout high school. She married fellow Mancelona student Nick Edson in 1976 and three children followed. Over the years her weight just steadily increased.

"The day of the surgery, I was nervous. Was I doing the right thing?" she recalls. "While recovering I had pain. I hated everyone who suggested the surgery – including myself!

I sat there watching all the food ads on TV while I was sipping my chicken broth and wondering 'What did I do?'"

The counseling gave her coping skills and Edson transformed herself from "an emotional eater" to a healthy eater. "Now I see food as fuel for my body. That's my relationship with food now. This body is made of trillions of cells and they're not going to function properly on cheeseburgers, fries and Cokes. Food has to give cells nutrition – and still taste good."

Armed with this new attitude, Edson went a full year with no alcohol or carbonated drinks. She quit using sugar and eliminated cakes, pies and pastries from her diet. For a treat, she may opt for non-sugar frozen yogurt.

After surgery, Edson dropped 20 to 25 pounds a month for the first three months. She says it was encouraging; people noticed the change immediately. She went from wearing size 28-30 pants to size 10-12. She's continued to melt away pounds with a combination of controlled eating and moderate exercise.

An added obstacle in her path was her ongoing fight against Multiple Sclerosis. MS limited her stamina and made her unable to exercise as much as many patients. Edson's exercise was relatively restricted, usually water exercises, Curves fitness sessions or walking.

"I feel I've added 10 years to my life," she says. "I'm enjoying a happier, healthier, longer life and I'm not going to let anything – including my emotions – sabotage that."

Medical research continues to find evidence that bariatric surgery provides effective treatment for type 2 diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and obstructive sleep apnea.

"Surgery for severe obesity goes way beyond weight loss," said Kelvin Higa, M.D. president of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. "This surgery results in the complete remission or significant improvement of type 2 diabetes and other life-threatening disease in most patients."

GT Surgery surgeons perform three types of bariatric procedures – the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, the lap-band procedure and the vertical sleeve gastrectomy. Hospitals designated as centers of excellence must perform at least 125 bariatric surgeries per year, while surgeons must have performed 125 bariatric surgeries during their career and 50 per year.

Since 2003, MMC has offered bariatric surgery to patients who pass a thorough screening process. Bariatric procedures are not for everyone. Patients qualify for surgery only if they demonstrate the required commitment, motivation, education, and medical history. Surgeons will only operate if surgery is the best health choice and if the patient commits to a lifetime of follow-up care, including diet, exercise, and vitamin supplements.

"In recent years, obesity has finally become recognized as a multiple organ disease process," says Nizzi. "No other intervention can compare with the dramatic resolution of multiple comorbidities that is achieved with bariatric surgery. Insurance carriers have finally recognized that weight reduction surgery, although an expensive short-term intervention, provides significant long-term savings through healthier patients. The cosmetic outcome should be merely viewed as a favorable side-effect."

In a 2008 report by the Michigan Department of Community Health, 65.3 percent of Michigan adults were either overweight or obese and the state had the eighth highest prevalence rate of obesity in the nation.

"My heart goes out to people, because there's a real person trapped in that big body," says Edson. "It's exhausting, it's hard on your body, it's depressing. It's a vicious cycle.

But bariatric surgery can be a life-saving tool to give you the life you deserve." BN