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Kathy Schmidt had become a recluse. Her multiple health issues and concerns about her weight led her to stay home more and more often. "I didn't want to leave the house," says the 58-year-old Eau Claire, Wisconsin, resident. "I didn't want to go to family gatherings. I wasn't participating in life."
Kathy had struggled with her weight for years and tried many weight-loss programs. "I'm not exaggerating when I said I joined one program six times," she says.
Over time, Kathy began to experience serious medical problems related to her weight, including numbness in her thighs, pain in her knees and lower back, plantar fasciitis in her feet and a racing heartbeat.
"Our program provides each patient with proven, medically based solutions to regain hope and health."Chris Hower, M.D.
The last straw for Kathy was when she was diagnosed with sleep apnea. "It just bothered me," Kathy says. "I didn't want to wear the CPAP mask for the rest of my life, and my sleep doctor mentioned that losing weight could help. I had tried so many different programs before, and I felt like bariatric surgery was my final hope."
Kathy enrolled in the Bariatric Surgery Program at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire. During the six-month presurgery program, patients like Kathy meet with a surgeon, registered dietitians, counselors, exercise specialists and other medical experts to ensure they are prepared for the lifestyle changes necessary to ensure long-term weight-loss success.
"Our program provides each patient with proven, medically based solutions to regain hope and health," explains Chris Hower, M.D., a Mayo Clinic Health System general and bariatric surgeon. "It is designed to do more than reduce the weight of patients' bodies. We help them reinvent themselves by focusing on each patient's unique emotional, physical, nutritional and educational needs."
Kathy appreciated that approach. "Everyone was so nice, and the program was wonderful," she says. "I was surprised how much I enjoyed the support groups. I looked forward to going, and it was probably my favorite part of the program."
Dr. Hower says Kathy was a good candidate for bariatric surgery because she met the National Institutes of Health requirements of having body mass index of 40 or greater, or 35 with obesity-related medical conditions, such as sleep apnea. Also, she was motivated to make the necessary lifestyle changes.
Dr. Hower performed Kathy's Roux-en-Y gastric bypass in February 2018. A minimally invasive laparoscopic procedure, it includes creating a small pouch in the stomach and connecting it directly to the small intestine. People who have this surgery feel full more quickly and absorb fewer calories because food bypasses part of the small intestine.
"I feel awesome. I'm even more active than I ever was before."Kathy Schmidt
About 20 months after surgery, Kathy says she has lost about 70 pounds and all of her previous health concerns have gone away, including the sleep apnea. "I feel awesome," she says.
She's also back to being an enthusiastic participant in her own life. "I'm even more active than I ever was before," she says. "At least five days a week, I ride my bike 8 to 10 miles in the morning. When I first started, it took me 57 minutes to finish. Now I'm down to 37 minutes."
Kathy also is trying new adventures. In June 2019, she and her sisters took a trip to Colorado and tried whitewater rafting for the first time.
"Before the surgery, I would have stayed on the sidelines and said, 'Have fun,'" she says. "But I was able to get right in there and participate. It was amazing. I was scared, but it was so exhilarating. I was so proud of myself, and we didn't even tip over."
Note: A version of this story previously was published in Hometown Health.