By Erin Wegner
Tracy and Don Frevert of Columbia both had weight loss surgeries in 2012 and 2014, respectively, losing nearly 300 pounds combined. We wanted to find out what it was like for them to have the surgery, how they’ve been able to keep their weight off and what life is like after having bariatric surgery.
In their free time, Don and Tracy Frevert enjoy fishing, traveling and dancing to ‘80s cover bands. These are things that are easier to do and a lot more enjoyable since they’ve lost 295 pounds collectively as a couple.
“She started all this,” Don begins.
Tracy noticed that she was starting to have a few health concerns. Her blood pressure was high, and she was struggling with sleep apnea. Knowing that she needed to lose weight, Tracy had tried conventional diets and an array of exercise programs. With each attempt, she would lose weight. But over time, she would gain the pounds back that she had lost, plus a few more. Tracy realized that she wouldn’t be able to do this on her own and needed help.
Bariatric surgery was something that Tracy had known about and had been interested in. She’d thought about having surgery many times. But, at the time, her insurance wouldn’t cover the surgery and gastric bypass surgery was the only option for surgery. but wasn’t yet available in Columbia. So, she had put off the thought of surgery for a few years.
Tracy then got a new job with the City of Columbia. While attending a health fair for city employees, she found herself at the Boone Hospital Center Health and Wellness table, holding a brochure for gastric banding surgery.
“Finally,” she thought. “The surgery for me.” She asked the staff some questions, learned about the weight loss surgery seminars, and went from there.
In December 2012, Tracy came to Boone Hospital Center, where surgeon James Pitt, DO, performed a gastric band procedure. This procedure is the least invasive and is the only adjustable weight loss surgery option. This option is performed as an outpatient procedure and requires patients to make follow-up visits to the clinic to have their band adjusted.
Bariatric surgery can be done in a number of ways; gastric band, sleeve gastrectomy or gastric by-pass. These procedures reduce the size of the stomach. The sleeve gastrectomy and gastric bypass are permanent, while the gastric band is the least invasive and is not permanent. Tracy chose the gastric band procedure for these reasons.
Gastric band patients typically experience the slowest weight loss, but can expect to lose 40 to 45% of their starting weight. Tracy started her bariatric surgery journey at 250 pounds. It took Tracy around 18 months to lose the weight. She currently weighs 135 pounds, meaning she lost 46% of her weight.
While Don was supportive of Tracy’s surgery, he was not ready for surgery of his own yet. It was two years after Tracy’s surgery before Don says he was ready and had the mindset: “It’s time to do something about this and get it under control.”
Don’s first obstacle was saying goodbye to his comfort foods: spaghetti, pizza, soda and beer. But he did. To prepare for surgery, he said goodbye to all of them, knowing that this was the last time he was going to eat and drink those foods. Even now, Don will take a bite of pizza and think, “How did I like this?”
Bariatric patients are given guidelines and suggestions of foods to eat after surgery. Don’s comfort foods are only suggested in moderation, because they wouldn’t aid in his weight loss journey.
“Certain foods, such as tough meats, simple sugars and soft breads, are typically not tolerated as well after surgery by many people,” explains Nicole Spencer, DO, of Columbia Surgical Associates.
Before his surgery, Don also struggled with health concerns. He took medication for his blood pressure, had to use a CPAP machine when he slept, and was on Celebrex for pain in his knees. Don’s starting weight was 383 pounds. He had his surgery in October 2014 and, like his wife, it took him 18 months to lose all of his weight. Don’s current weight is 203 pounds – a 47% weight loss.
How have Tracy and Don successfully kept their weight off so many years later?
First, they both had the correct mindset that this surgery was a tool for their weight loss and not a magic pill. Tracy says bariatric surgery was something that she chose as a preventative measure for her health.
The couple fully understood that having weight loss surgery meant they would have to change their lifestyle for it to work. Getting on the same page in the kitchen helped them tremendously. They learned which foods were good for them and which ones weren’t.
Tracy and Don’s new favorite dinner is grilled steak served with fresh zucchini, yellow squash and asparagus. They enjoy cooking and using herbs and spices for flavor. Don loves to grill, and he grills all year long. If Don grills two steaks, that can feed them for 8 to 12 meals – most bariatric patients have a stomach capacity of 4 to 8 ounces per meal per day. Four ounces equals ¾ of a cup, and 8 ounces equals 1 cup.
Tracy also loves what she calls her “mystery meals” for lunch at work. She puts leftovers in small plastic containers, then puts them in the freezer. When she gets to work, she doesn’t find out what’s she having until it’s defrosted.
Second, both Tracy and Don were ready to change their lifestyle and make exercising a part of their life. Because Don had problems with his knees, they did several years of water boot camp. They enjoy water aerobics, because it’s easier on their joints. They also enjoy walking together and plan walking dates.
Don says, “We’re always trying to do some type of movement. The band would do so much for you, but you still have to do your diligence in doing the exercise with it, to make it stick.”
Third, the couple attended the hospital’s weight loss surgery support group. The group meets once a month. Some people in the group have also had a gastric band, some have had sleeve or gastric bypass procedures and some haven’t had surgery yet. Tracy says the group has been helpful because people “share experiences and stories and reaffirm that there’s other people in the same situation you are.”
Tracy and Don celebrate the little things that they couldn’t do before they each had weight loss surgery. For Tracy, it’s being able to paint her toenails without taking a break after each toe or crossing her legs – something that she couldn’t do before.
For Don, it was shopping and traveling. Before his surgery, there was only one store Don could shop at and a pair of size 56 jeans cost him $54 dollars. Now in a size 34 to 36 waist, he can buy three pairs of jeans for the price of one, and he can shop wherever he wants. With a smile, he says, “Clothes get so much cheaper when you are a smaller size.”
Don also celebrated the first time he flew in an airplane and didn’t have to use a seat extension. And after losing weight, Don had a follow-up sleep study and found out he didn’t need to use a CPAP anymore. He is also off of his blood pressure medication.
Another celebration the couple enjoys is when they go out to eat. Before their surgeries, if there was only a booth available at a restaurant, they had to wait for a table. Now they celebrate getting to sit wherever they want.
Both Tracy and Don are glad they made the decision to have weight loss surgery.
“I am appreciative because my health in general is better,” Don says. “I wish I hadn’t been so hard-headed and waited two years!”
“We have zero regrets and would do it again in a heartbeat,” Tracy says. “It truly was lifesaving.”