On Sunday afternoon, a group of men and women joined in a celebration after several years of effort and commitment.
Their common link: weight loss.
The Bariatric Weight Loss Center at Northeast Georgia Medical Center welcomed back former patients and their families and friends, as well as doctors and nurses who took care of them, for “Celebrate You,” a weight loss surgery patient achievement event, at the Gainesville Civic Center.
The event featured patients’ personal testimonies about life before and after weight loss surgery, comments from doctors, “bariatric-friendly” food and dancing.
“It’s inspirational for people who are starting their journey, or no matter where they are in their journey,” said LoRita Shingleton, program manager of the Bariatric Weight Loss Center. “The surgery is simply a tool.
“But what you do with it afterwards is totally up to the person who had the surgery.”
Shingleton said it didn’t take convincing to have former patients come back and share their stories.
“(The former patients) are more than willing to share their story because the surgery has absolutely changed their lives,” Shingleton explained, “and for many, it has given them their lives back.
“I had a young girl once tell me (surgery) gave her a life because she had never had a life before having bariatric surgery and then losing nearly 300 pounds. That’s what it’s all about, the health that they gain from bariatric surgery.”
Batriatric surgery includes gastric banding, gastric bypass and vertical sleeve gastrectomy.
Peter Henderson of The Longstreet Clinic has been a doctor for 40 years. He said he became interested in bariatric surgery 12 years ago, and explained that patients do the work and surgeons are just a part of the process.
“The patients come to you and they are in a state where their health is really bad, or they are worried about the future,” he said, “or they just can’t do the things they want to do with their kids or grandchildren.
“They have their surgery. They come back, and they are doing so much better. It’s so gratifying to see the improvement in their health and in their lives. ... It’s a complete change in their situation.”
Dr. Alex Nguyen of the Northeast Georgia Medical Center said it was “fantastic” to see old patients and where their lives had gone after surgery.
“This is a huge treat for me,” he said. “Every one of (the former patients have) their own inspirational story that drives them to do what they do.
“Each of them can measure success in their own ways. Whether it’s their weight they lose, or how healthy they become. The bottom line is it’s not about the number, it’s about their happiness. It’s about their health. It’s about them living longer. This whole thing is about that. This celebration is definitely for the patients.
“It’s looking at what they have done. It’s looking at what they have accomplished, and looks at where they are going. I’m just lucky to be a part of it.”
Tracy Beiley, 42, had gastric-bypass surgery on May 15, 2012. At the time of her surgery, she weighed 308 pounds. Now, she weighs 156 pounds.
She said when she turned 40, she knew she needed a change. Now, she’s “happy and healthy,” and a big part of that she credited to a support system: the doctors.
“It’s a great sense of support,” she said about seeing the doctors at the event. “Having them to let us know they are still here for us, and wanting us to follow up, and if we have any questions or concerns, we can candidly talk to them.
“They are always there for us, no matter what. That’s a great sense of not being alone.”
“In the past, I’ve heard of so many people with failure rates because they didn’t have that resource, or they felt intimidated to reach out. But they make us feel so welcome, and like family.”
Beiley also said educating yourself before you have surgery can help someone know that bariatric surgery is a tool. She said a strong support system will help as well.
For Ken Markovits, an introduction to someone who had been through the surgery before he went through it helped him learn what to expect after surgery.
Now, he’s trying to help others in the same way.
“For me, it’s about paying it forward,” Markovits said. “I’m a very firm believer in you reap what you sow. So to me, these events are very important to help other people.”
He called bariatric surgery “life-changing.”
For more information on bariatric surgery and services, visit www.nghs.com or call 770-219-9000.