Weight-Loss Surgery

Do you feel like Kristine? Like you can’t be the person you want to be? If you’re struggling with obesity, the bariatric surgery teams at UW Medicine can help set you free. Through innovative weight-loss procedures, we help patients who are obese lose weight and return to the activities and the lives they love.

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How a helper found her hero.

A lot of people think of gastric bypass surgery as simply a way to lose weight. To help you cut down on eating. And while that is somewhat true, for me, it saved my life. I believe that all of us are put here for a purpose. Mine is to help people. And I got a second chance to do that.

It started as a series of infections — ear, nose, throat — that would go respiratory. They were bad enough that I started getting pneumonia, dozens of times. One year I had it twice. But what made it even harder was that I would eat to soothe the discomfort — and I started gaining weight.

As one of the first female longshoremen in the country, I learned what it takes to be a survivor. Working on the waterfront was hard enough when I was just the blonde with the cute little nose, but then I started getting big, and I could feel the looks. The sickness only made it worse.

I was given steroids to treat the respiratory problems. On again/off again at first. But before long, I was on constant high-dose prednisone. You can diet all you want, but when you’re on high-dose steroids, you’re going to gain weight, plain and simple. At my peak, I was nearing 300 pounds.

At that size, it was like I was a prisoner in my own body. I wanted to get out, see friends and enjoy all the things this world has to offer. But it was like I was trapped. Helpless. Depressed. Watching people on TV doing all of these great things and having all of this fun was like watching a fantasy that I couldn’t be a part of.

And there were the looks. The disapproving glance from the girl at the bank. The staring from the teenagers. I took my daughter to Disneyland, and I had to ride on a little scooter to get around. I couldn’t use the regular stall in public bathrooms. It was more than difficult; I felt like I’d lost my dignity.

Unbelievably, things got even worse when a doctor in Puyallup performed fundoplication surgery to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease — stitching a sort of valve in the base of my esophagus. Not only did it not fix the problem, but he mistakenly stitched my esophagus to my diaphragm.

I went from being unhealthy and miserable to barely able to breathe.
I knew this wasn’t me. My entire life, I’d always been about helping people. My friend calls me the Queen of the Habitual Helpers. It’s just something I’m wired to do. But now I needed help — desperately.

Finally, I was referred to UW Medicine, where a team of specialists worked and worked to figure out why I couldn’t breathe. With the cause finally uncovered, I was sent to my hero — Dr. Oelschlager (UW Physician, UW Medical Center).

And that’s when everything changed.

Yes, he could fix my diaphragm, but there was more. He believed he could help all of it — my weight, my infections, my gastric reflux. He had my attention.

The solution he proposed was gastric bypass. As I mentioned before, I used to think of gastric bypass as a last resort for overeaters. The reality is that it can save someone’s life.

Dr. Oelschlager said that the surgery would do several key things: yes, it would help curb the eating. But it would also block the gastric reflux, help prevent the accompanying infections and get me off of the steroids.

So that’s what we did.

That was two years ago. And today that other, unhealthy, unhappy me feels like only a memory. I’ve lost the weight, lost the chronic infections and regained my life.

I truly believe that Dr. Oelschlager saved my life. And even now, I send him cards and stop by his office to remind him what a difference he’s made.

It’s hard to describe going down that road and coming back. I feel like I’ve been handed a gift, and now I want to share that with as many people as I can in as many ways as I can.