Weight Loss Surgery: Becky’s Journey to the OR

After years of trying to lose weight and keep it off, Becky Sawtelle finally decided to have Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery. It’s not one of those things you think about today and do tomorrow. She had to go through rigorous medical testing — one test showed that her gallbladder was so full of stones it was on the verge of rupturing and needed to come out right away. She also had to see a psychotherapist and go through nutritional counseling. In all, about six months of preparation for the big day, which was yesterday, January 22, 2013.

As she lay on a gurney waiting to be wheeled into the operating room at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, Becky admits to feeling both terrified and exhilarated. “I’ve spent all these months preparing, and now it’s here and part of me just wants to go home and not do it, but I think it will extend my life — if I survive the surgery!”

That mixture of anxiety and excitement is something he sees all the time says Dr. Jamie Loggins, Medical Director of the Central Maine Bariatric Surgery Center, and Becky’s surgeon. He promised her that she was in good hands and reminded her that the primary reason for her surgery is to help her “be a healthier person, who hopefully will live a lot longer than she might have otherwise.”

Becky already has high blood pressure and pre-diabetes and is at risk of developing other weight-related health problems. One of the goals is to eliminate or greatly reduce those risks. There are three things Dr. Loggins will consider when measuring the success of her surgery.

Measuring the success of gastric bypass surgery

  1. How much weight does Becky lose?
  2. Do her medical issues improve?
  3. How does she feel?

In the operating room, Dr. Loggins and his surgical team made six teeny incisions in Becky’s abdomen. They are for surgical tools and a camera. An image of the inside of her belly was magnified and projected on several monitors around the room. Ultimately, Dr. Loggins would create a small pouch in her stomach and connect it to a section of her small intestine, but it will take about three hours of many, many carefully choreographed movements before his task is complete.

Becky will not be able to eat solid foods right away, only liquids and popsicles, but when she can, the small pouch will restrict how much food she can take in.  “Imagine that you start off with something about the size of a soccer ball,” Dr. Loggins described, “and you make it the size of a plum.” The rest of her stomach will no longer store food, but will still play an important role in secreting digestive enzymes and immune boosting substances.

From experience, Dr. Loggins says Becky can expect to lose 60 to 80 percent of her excess body weight. The percentage depends on the type of surgical procedure you have and how well you follow directions after the surgery. “Our philosophy is we’re here to give people a tool and we’re also here to teach them how to use the tool,” he says. “Gastric bypass is probably one of the best tools we have in fighting morbid obesity. This is not a cosmetic operation. We do this to make people healthier. Everything is lined up in Becky’s favor to be healthier, feel better and lose weight.”

Because of advancements in anesthesia medications and surgical instruments and techniques, Becky’s recovery should be much safer and quicker than even a decade ago. Her surgery went well and she was out of recovery by late afternoon. Her first Facebook message to friends and supporters came at about 7:30 pm. “I’m alive.”

She was up and walking last night. Today she has to have a x-ray to “make sure nothing is leaking,” as she puts it and she has to meet a water challenge — be able to drink 16 1-ounce cups of water every 15 minutes and keep it down. Only then can she go home, maybe as soon as tonight.

Catching Health aka Diane Atwood in the OR with Becky

Catching Health is going to check in with Becky on a weekly basis to see how and what she is doing. If you have any questions for her or would like to offer encouragement and support, just comment on the post. She is very appreciative of all comments she has already received. “The support is very important,” she says. “Some people look at this and ask why can’t you lose the weight on your own? Why can’t you just stop stuffing your face? That’s true. Why couldn’t I do that? I just needed another tool. Other people have gone through this and know what you’re going through. They can give you the support that you need.”


Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. She now hosts and produces the Catching Health podcast and writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.