Bariatric Surgery Patient Stories

Phill Carr, age 46, turned to bariatric surgery at Spectrum Health Zeeland Community Hospital in May, 2018, after reaching 408 pounds at age 44. With the oversight of James Foote, MD, bariatric surgeon, Carr proceeded with a sleeve gastrectomy to reduce the size of his stomach. In his case, the results were almost immediate, and weight seemed to melt off his 6-foot-1 frame.

Three years after surgery, Carr has hit and surpassed his goal weight of 240 pounds and continues to advocate for bariatric surgery as an important weight loss tool.
"I would tell anyone that it’s a great opportunity for them," added Carr. "However, it will only be successful if they are willing to accept the necessary lifestyle changes and put in the work."

Even during the stress of COVID-19, his wellness journey was at the top of mind. Despite a slight increase in weight due to limited gym access, Carr is proud of his current weigh of 235 pounds. His commitment is renewed, and his health continues to benefit from the outcome of bariatric surgery.

"Before my surgery, I was on the verge of sleep apnea and had borderline high blood pressure," Carr shared. "Now those are no longer concerns. I’m able to shop at normal size clothing stores and I’m no longer afraid to go on planes or amusement park rides because of being hesitant I won’t fit in the seats."

To learn more about Phill's story, visit https://healthbeat.spectrumhealth.org/losing-the-old-you-bariatric-surgery-weightloss-sleeve-gastrectomy/.
Jaclyn Folkema, age 41, was born with a heart defect, however, with surgical intervention in infancy and minor lifestyle modifications she was able to grow up with few health problems. That was until she reached a weight of 335 pounds in her 30s.

With this weight gain came some byproducts of obesity, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and severe sleep apnea. After being told by her cardiologist that she would have five years to live if she continued with her unhealthy lifestyle, Folkema turned to bariatric surgeon Jon Schram, MD, for help.

After initially losing a total of 173 pounds, Folkema admits that she had some weight creep back during the pandemic.

"At first I felt like a failure and beat myself up about the gain," she added. "But then I reset myself and focused on what I had learned during the process. I started the first week of January by keeping a food diary and closely watching what foods I was eating.

Four years after surgery, Folkema continues to believe in the benefits of bariatric surgery. She encourages those contemplating surgery to attend a seminar and learn about the options to determine which type of surgery is right for them.

"My cardiologist is quite pleased with how well my weight loss has affected my heart health. My self-esteem and confidence levels are through the roof, and I am just overall happier these days," Folkema shared. "It’s the best decision I have ever made for myself!"

To learn more about Jaclyn's story, visit https://healthbeat.spectrumhealth.org/heart-on-the-line-bariatric-surgery-weight-lost-health-gained/.
Jim Root, age 63, tried various diets over the years, but even when he lost weight, he invariably found he would gain it back again—and then some. After regaining the 100 pounds he lost in 2008. Root decided to investigate bariatric surgery.

"It was March of 2018 that I went in to see Dr. Jon Schram," Root said. "I was at 49.8 body mass index at that point." Root lost 120 pounds within the first 13 months after his vertical sleeve gastrectomy in December, 2018. He did not realize it at the time, but he was about to gain so much more in his life, than just weight loss.

From 2014 to 2016, Root had been treated by several cardiologists for atrial fibrillation, a condition that causes an irregular and often rapid heart rate and advanced heart failure. At the weight of 390 pounds, it was determined too risky for Root to undergo the lifesaving operation he desperately needed.

After his weight loss success resulting from bariatric surgery, Root was released from his heart medication and the atrial fibrillation returned. This time, now at a healthy weight, doctors were able to move forward to repair his mitral heart valve.

"On April 7, 2020, I was finally able to have open heart surgery," added Root. "The success of this operation was in large part due to my weight loss. I credit Dr. Schram and his team with helping to save my life."

Now off blood thinners and blood pressure medications, Root continues to focus on eating plenty of proteins, tracking his food intake with an app and staying active by walking and riding the stationary bike.

"Don’t wait, even if you are just evaluating and exploring the options. I wish I had the surgery ten years ago," he added. The medical team’s support throughout pre-surgery, surgery and post-surgery was fantastic. I appreciated their help through every step of the journey."

To learn more about Jim's story, visit https://healthbeat.spectrumhealth.org/bariatric-weightloss-surgery-skeptic-turned-believer/ 

To watch his FOX17 Morning Mix interview here: https://www.fox17online.com/morning-mix/spectrum-health-bariatric-surgery-assists-people-like-jim-on-their-weight-loss-journey.
Joryn Bynum, a phlebotomist at Spectrum Health, struggled with excess weight throughout her life. After using food as a coping mechanism following a divorce, her weight creeped up to 275 pounds.

Bynum tried every diet she heard about—keto, Weight Watchers, an assortment of diet pills. The weight always came back. With a family history of diabetes and high blood pressure, her own blood pressure climbing, restricted activity levels and weight-related fertility issues, she grew concerned about her future.

So she decided: The time had come to get serious about bariatric surgery.

Bynum attended a free orientation session in October 2019, where she learned more about bariatric surgery and what it involved. She considered how it might change her life and what it would require from her.

“I learned through orientation that I would need to start looking at food differently—as fuel for my body rather than as a reward,” she said. “I would have to learn to reward myself in different ways.”

Later, she made an appointment with James Foote, MD, FACS, a bariatric surgeon at Spectrum Health Zeeland Community Hospital.

“Around 99% of the bariatric surgeries I perform are the sleeve gastrectomy,” Dr. Foote said. “That’s what Joryn chose, too.”

Following her June 3, 2020 operation, Bynum found herself up and walking shortly afterward.

She now eats a high-protein diet—80 to 100 grams of protein a day—to keep up her metabolism. As of January, she has shed 90 pounds to reach a weight of 179.

“I feel great,” she said. “I never set a weight goal for myself—just wanted to feel good, feel healthy.”

“In fact, I wish I had done this sooner,” she added. “My aunt and a close friend are now going to have the surgery after they saw how it helped me. My advice to anyone considering bariatric surgery is to not hesitate. Consider it an investment in yourself.”

When Matt and Melody Geerlings, both 53, decided the time had come to lose weight, they did it together. For each, however, the battle would prove quite different. Melody, a real estate development associate with Habitat for Humanity, weighed 293 pounds. Matt, an insurance broker, decided to take action when the scale hit 376 pounds.

But mere metrics would not be the hardest part of their weight-loss battle. The real struggle would come from what they carried inside.

Adopted at 5 1/2, Melody suffered abuse until age 14.

“I realized later that had a lot to do with my weight gain,” she said.

As Melody lost weight, she began to have nightmares about her childhood abuse. She suffered from panic attacks. It seemed as if taking off the weight allowed the suppressed pain to surface from somewhere deep inside.

Matt’s journey, meanwhile, would be fraught with its own set of emotional burdens. As he recovered from an alcohol addiction, he found himself gaining weight.

“I was actually thin from drinking,” Matt said. “All through college I was an athlete, but in 2008 I had a health scare. My heart stopped after a two-week drinking binge and I had to be revived. That’s when my journey of recovery began.”

It became a matter of trading one addiction for another. He began attending Alcoholics Anonymous on an almost daily basis to stay sober. He relapsed in 2014, but pulled himself out of that soon afterward with the help of his sponsor.

“It was about that time when Melody and I met,” he said. “Well, re-met, actually.”

“We’ve known each other since kindergarten,” Melody said. “Then I saw Matt again on Facebook in later years. We’ve been married now for 5 1/2 years. God brought us together.”

Despite their best efforts, the Geerlings seemed to encounter nothing but trouble when it came to weight loss. Melody shunned peanut butter. Matt joined Weight Watchers. But progress proved elusive.

“I would lose 5 to 10 pounds and then gain it back again,” Matt said.

Change came on Fourth of July weekend in 2016. While watching the news on TV, the Geerlings saw a segment about a person who had gastric bypass surgery. The individual’s success looked truly tantalizing—overweight to slim and healthy. Matt remembers looking at his wife and saying, “I’m going to pursue this. You?”

She had to give it some thought.

“It took me two weeks to say yes,” Melody said. “I had to pray on it. I had to be emotionally healthy first.”

When Kerianne Holman, MD, bariatric surgeon at Spectrum Health Bariatrics, met the Geerlings, she made sure they understood the full scope of the program.

The bariatric team helped them arrive at respective courses: Matt would undergo gastric sleeve surgery and Melody would have gastric bypass.

The Geerlings underwent a comprehensive program to prepare for their surgeries. But it also went beyond that. They had to prepare for lifestyle changes, too. They had psychological evaluations to assess their readiness. They learned about healthy nutrition and dietary habits. They met with support groups and joined exercise classes.

And then came the surgeries—Matt’s in December 2016, Melody’s two months later.

“It takes women 12 to 18 months to lose the weight to reach fitness,” Melody said. “I did it in 7 1/2 months. I’m 5-foot-4 and my weight now varies between 139 to 143 pounds.”

Men typically lose weight faster. Within a year and a half, Matt hit 225 pounds. And he’s been losing weight ever since.

The Geerlings routinely walk 12,000 to 14,000 steps each day. They ride their bikes regularly. They keep to a healthy diet with small portions. They avoid sugar and fried or processed foods.

Dr. Holman cautioned that bariatric surgery is not a cure-all. For the Geerlings, bariatric surgery proved highly effective alongside changes in lifestyle and mindset.

It turned out to be “the best choice for our health and our lives,” Melody said. “For us, it was the only way to take the weight off and keep it off. I kept one of my 5X sweatshirts as a reminder of how far I have come. And it’s so much fun shopping for clothes now.”