A Tale of Great Loss and Two Slimmer Sisters

Sisters Debbie and Pam Mitchell

Sisters Debbie and Pam Mitchell

People don’t recognize Debbie and Pam Mitchell very easily these days, now that they have lost close to 200 pounds between the two of them.

The Mitchell sisters were overweight for most of their lives – until this past year when they’ve experienced the slimming results of bariatric surgery. Since they had the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass procedure in March 2012, Pam has lost 80 pounds and Debbie has shed 100 pounds.

“I went to the airport to pick up my son who had been away in the Army and had not seen me for a while,” Debbie recalls. “He didn’t even recognize me.”

Last year, Pam convinced Debbie to attend a seminar with surgeon Dr. Farida Bounoua discussing the bariatric surgery program at the Cottage Center for Weight-Loss Surgery at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, a designated center of excellence.

After attending the talk in Lompoc, the sisters decided right away that they wanted to have the surgery. A mutual friend of theirs had had the bypass procedure and was very happy with the results.

Both Pam and Debbie were good candidates for minimally invasive bariatric surgery. The laparoscopic technique means the surgeon makes smaller incisions, resulting in less scarring and a faster recovery.

To qualify patients for bariatric surgery, doctors use a calculation called body mass index (BMI) to determine a person’s level of obesity. A normal BMI is 18.5 to 25. Gastric bypass surgery is a weight loss option for people with BMI greater than 40. Patients with a BMI as low as 35 and who have a life-threatening condition or severe physical limitations may qualify for the surgery as well.

Gastric bypass surgery for obesity changes the size of the stomach and small intestine and leads to weight loss by limiting food intake. Surgeons reduce the size of the stomach to a small pouch so a person cannot eat as much, and the middle part of the intestine is connected to the pouch-sized stomach. The body is unable to take in as many calories from the food because it bypasses the first part of the small intestine where many of the calories from food are usually absorbed. A person who has the surgery will need to take a multivitamin every day to assure that they are getting all the nutrients they need to stay healthy.

In addition to gastric bypass surgery, other bariatric surgery procedures include the lap band and the gastric sleeve options; both reduce the size of the stomach and decrease food intake.

After a patient is determined to be a good candidate for bariatric surgery, he or she is required to lose a small amount of weight before having the procedure.

“I noticed the weight coming off, even though I wouldn’t weigh myself at home,” she says. “I could see it in the way my clothes fit and the way my face looked.”

The Cottage Center for Weight-Loss Surgery offers a comprehensive range of the highest quality services and trained staff to safely assist you every step of the way in your decision to have bariatric surgery — from pre-surgery assessments to medical care to post-surgery follow-up, support groups and nutrition classes, we are here to help you succeed.

Our experienced, board-certified Cottage bariatric surgeons use state-of-the-art, minimally invasive surgical techniques, including gastric bypass, gastric banding and the new gastric sleeve procedures.

For more information, find out about our upcoming seminars where you can meet bariatric surgeons from the Cottage Center for Weight-Loss Surgery.

“I feel so great now,” she adds. “I still have 20 more pounds to go, and even though my weight loss has slowed down, I’m losing about 5 pounds every three months.”

Both Debbie and Pam say that they do not have restrictions on what they can eat for meals, but the portions must be small, and it’s best if they avoid sugary treats and snacks.

Pam was able to lose the required weight quickly and was scheduled for surgery right away. Her starting weight was 240 pounds.

“I’ve been heavy all of my life. I tried everything to get the weight off and I just couldn’t lose very much, until I had the surgery,” Pam explains.

Debbie’s breakfast usually includes one piece of toast, a container of yogurt, and some fruit. For dinner, she can eat four ounces of meat, or roughly half of a chicken breast, vegetables and a small helping of pasta or rice.

“I feel full and not hungry, even though I’m eating so much less than I used to,” Debbie says.

She noticed a big difference during Thanksgiving last year. Although she piled her plate with all of the temptations of the grand feast, she was only able to eat a third of her food before she felt full.

Since having surgery in March 2012, Pam is now 80 pounds lighter and is able to enjoy many activities she used to avoid when she was overweight.

“I love to go swimming because now I can put on a bathing suit,” she says. “I can also wear dresses I couldn’t put on before. And now I even go out on dates!”

“I’m very happy with the experience,” she adds. “I love the results and I would definitely recommend the surgery.”

Unlike Pam who was able to lose her required weight before the surgery, Debbie was a little intimidated that she had to drop 13 pounds.

“I thought I would never be able to do it,” she says. While she did manage to lose 7 pounds on her own, the doctor told her she would have to delay the surgery until she could shed the additional 6 pounds.

The doctor put Debbie on a liquid shake diet. She lost the 6 pounds, and her surgery was scheduled shortly after her sister’s. Before the gastric bypass, Debbie weighed 260 pounds. She has since lost 100 pounds. 

Debbie says she doesn't miss eating big meals because she has much more energy and a whole new lifestyle.

“I can climb the stairs of my condo without running out of breath. I can get down on the floor and get back up without struggling,” she says.

She no longer has to take medication to control high blood pressure because her level is now normal. And the headaches that plagued her when she was obese have disappeared.

Her favorite activities these days involve being outdoors instead of hiding in her house.

“When I was overweight I didn't want to do anything. Now I ride my bike every day, I love to be outside, out walking and at the beach. I wouldn't even dare to put on a swimsuit before.”

Debbie’s only regret is that she didn't make a change sooner: “Instead of wasting 20 years being overweight, unhappy and unhealthy, I wish I had done the surgery years ago.”

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