Preparing for Bariatric Surgery

It was in my Facebook newsfeed one day where I came across a photo of a pair of feet standing on a scale. It read 393.6 pounds. Sometimes social media users will post such images as a public wakeup call to switch to a healthier lifestyle. For Peter Johnson of Makakilo, the wakeup call had already been made. Conversely, the photograph he publicly shared was to celebrate. He weighed under 400 pounds and was now light enough to use a bathroom scale again. Think about that. Imagine not being able to walk over to your bathroom in the morning to weigh yourself. Having to spend extra money on a bariatric scale or only weighing yourself at the doctor’s office. I eagerly congratulated my former classmate with an iconic “thumbs up.”

Johnson’s weight had crept up to 434 pounds after a knee surgery. After frustrations in finding clothes in his size, especially pants, he sat down with his doctor and explored the option of bariatric surgery. The procedure causes weight loss by restricting the amount of food the stomach can hold or by making it harder to absorb nutrients. The weight loss was a result of visits with his dietician from the Pali Momi Bariatrics Program. Visiting the specialist was just one of the preparations  the 38-year old took once enrolling in the program.

With just a few weeks to go before undergoing gastric sleeve surgery, Johnson sat down with me to catch up on old high school memories (Go Pearl City Chargers!) and to talk about preparing for the procedure and recovery process.

Since his original Facebook post in March 2015, Johnson has continued to see lower numbers on his scale, currently weighing in at 381 pounds. He has included physical activity into his health regimen, regularly doing strength training and cardio exercises at his local gym.

If a person didn’t know any better, it would be easy to ask, “Hey, if you’ve made this much progress with healthy eating and exercise, why not continue on this path and skip the surgery altogether?” Johnson explained that there’s more to the process. As part of the program checklist, he tested positive for sleep apnea which qualifies him for the bariatric procedure. It’s a common disorder in which you have one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while sleeping. If untreated, it can increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, obesity and diabetes. He also pointed out the surgery is not “an easy way out.” The effects of the procedure create a lifestyle change – for the most part, eating smaller portions.

A week before the surgery, Johnson will be going on a meal replacement diet, consisting of two shakes and one sensible meal. In recovery, he will be eating pureed meals or as Johnson described “basically baby food.” As he works his way up to solid foods, he will also be getting used to the lifelong habit of taking multivitamins which is required since some vitamins and minerals will be left out from such small meals.

The majority of the weight loss is expected to happen within the first six months after the surgery and the remainder will hopefully take place within the following year. After the year and a half window, Johnson has been told that his body will adapt to the resized stomach and it may become more difficult to lose weight. His target post procedure weight is 260 pounds.

Celebrity DJ/Entertainer Kutmaster Spaz  underwent gastric bypass surgery in 2009 and lost 137 pounds. I asked if he had any advice for Johnson:

Having gone through gastric bypass surgery myself, I know how scary and on edge you may feel. But please know it is one of the best decisions I have ever made. Your family will thank you for making this health-changing decision. I am able to do things I thought I could never do again like putting on my own shoes, running up a flight of stairs and stand up for more than an hour without having back or joint pain. Take it day by day, follow your meal plan and take your vitamins, and you will do amazing!

When asked about what he looks forward to doing after the surgery, Johnson simply replied, “flying coach.” He explained that he normally has to purchase two seats when flying.

If you would like to know more about bariatric surgery, visit the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases online. Also speak to your physician and health plan provider.