"I felt like I was slowly dying," says Candace Clark, a 54-year-old Barron, Wisconsin, resident who had dealt with weight issues for years. "I was tired of feeling the way I felt. I was sick a lot. I didn't want to be heavy and overweight any longer."
Candace tried various weight-loss programs and diet products over the years, including fasting, eating every other day and starving herself.
"Sometimes I lost a little bit of weight, but it would come back," she says. "It didn't last."
Besides the physical effects of her weight, Candace says there were emotional frustrations. When she needed a dress for her daughter's wedding, for example, it was a challenge to find one that fit.
"I actually cried," she says. "I had to drive a long way to find a dress."
Candace also had serious medical problems related to her weight. She suffered from sleep apnea and took medications for acid reflux, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes. Spurred by the combination of issues that her weight triggered, Candace decided to explore bariatric surgery as a way to lose weight and keep it off for good.
Candace connected with Chris Hower, M.D., a general and bariatric surgeon at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Mayo's site in Eau Claire is the only facility in northwestern Wisconsin accredited as a low-acuity bariatric surgery center by the American College of Surgeons and American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. The accreditation means the program meets the highest standards for patient safety and quality of care.
Dr. Hower says Candace was a good candidate for bariatric surgery because of her medical issues. To have bariatric surgery, patients must meet guidelines established by the National Institutes of Health, which include having a body mass index of 40 or greater, or having a body mass index of 35 with weight-related medical conditions.
"When people come to us, they obviously want to lose weight," Dr. Hower says. "Our larger goal is to help them become healthier. We want to cure some of their medical problems, help them feel better about themselves, and to feel better all around."
Before having surgery, patients like Candace meet with a multidisciplinary team, including a surgeon, dietitian, therapist, exercise physiologist and bariatrician — an internal medicine physician who specializes in bariatrics. Some patients also go through a structured, six-month physician-guided lifestyle program.
Candace had Roux-en-Y gastric bypass — a minimally invasive, laparoscopic procedure — in which surgeons create a small pouch from the stomach and connect it to the small intestine. After the procedure, the patient gets full quicker and absorbs fewer calories because food bypasses part of the small intestine.
In the 18 months after the surgery, Candace lost 83 pounds. She's now off her medications and is feeling great. She says she also exercises more and has adopted healthier eating habits.
"That's why we do bariatric surgery," says Dr. Hower. "It is rewarding to see patients become happier and healthier as they are losing weight."
Happy with the outcome of her surgery, Candace now has more energy now, and she is able to work and keep up with her three grandchildren.
"I had a very pleasant experience and couldn't be more pleased with the results," she says. "I'm feeling good. I'm feeling healthy. I'm more comfortable. I feel more attractive and hopeful for the future.
Note: A version of this story was previously published in Hometown Health.