Life After Gastric Bypass Surgery
One Patient's Story
By Angela Generoso and Laura Lee Bloor
Reviewed by William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
As of July 14, 2008, Mara Owens has lost 132 pounds.
"I feel amazing; I feel really good about what I've done. It takes a while for you to wrap your head around not being as big [anymore]. I still think I won't fit into that airline seat or [I'll] take up too much room. But that will come," she says.
At 5-foot-5, 272 pounds, Owens underwent gastric bypass surgery, a procedure in which part of her stomach was stapled down to create a small pouch, limiting the amount of food she can eat. A Y-shaped part of the small intestine was attached to the pouch, which lets food bypass the first part of the small intestine and a section of the second part. This results in fewer calories and nutrients taken in altogether. Her stomach, once the size of a football, is now the size of an egg.
Owens says her decision to undergo weight-loss surgery stemmed from years of research after countless failed diets and exercise programs. She felt she had tried everything that was reasonable in an effort to bring her weight down.
On July 24, 2006, Owens uneasily anticipated her gastric bypass surgery. With her husband and mother by her side, she tried to relax as she anticipated what was next.
"I was so nervous, there's no getting around it," she says. "I asked my friends to send me jokes so I could think of them while I was there. I was trying to think of jokes and actually started joking with the staff there, which helped me out a lot."
After her weight-loss surgery, a contrast test was performed to ensure that the staple line was holding.
"I had to drink this nasty stuff while they took pictures," she explains. "They won't let you start eating until they've assured that the line is holding back any food. Once the test is over and it comes out fine, they'll clear you to have stuff to drink."
Owens says she didn't start eating ice chips until the day after her surgery. She then moved on to water, and then Jell-O.
After leaving the hospital, a strict gastric-bypass-surgery diet of protein drinks and pudding was enforced for Owens for about four weeks, until she could start eating solid foods such as tuna, chicken and beans.
"The strange thing about all this is that for a few months you're not hungry," Owens says. "You have to make yourself eat, and you have to chew your food 20 or 30 times because you can't allow it to get stuck in that pouch."
Owens explains that now after her surgery, she must time the intervals between eating and drinking. This means she must wait 30 minutes after having a drink before she can eat. Then another 30-minute interval must exist before another drink is taken. This especially is a challenge for her because she still needs to drink 64 ounces of liquid each day.
Changing her eating habits has been a huge transition for her, as she believes her surgery must be used as a tool, not an immediate solution.
"If you're not willing to change your eating habits and are embarrassed because you can't eat like other people because there are certain foods you just can't approach, then you might want to reconsider having the surgery," she says. "People need to understand that if you go back to your bad eating habits and don't exercise and don't drink enough water and continue to stuff yourself, your stomach will stretch back. Then you'll just have two stomachs sitting in there."
She says it can be difficult when eating out at restaurants. Owens must find out how foods are made because high-fat foods can be extremely harsh on her stomach. Trying certain foods at home first to see if she can tolerate it is a good test for her before she tries to eat out.
"I had gone out to breakfast with my family and ordered scrambled eggs and bacon," she says. "They tasted and felt funny, and I had to throw it up. That's what happens."
Owens misses the foods she used to love before her gastric-bypass surgery, but says she has learned to like new foods now such as tofu, vegetarian protein products, tofu meatballs, ground turkey, and different types of fish.
Of all the foods and drinks she wishes she could still have, Owens misses soda the most.
"It's not the caffeine, it's the carbonation," she says. "But the gases in the carbonation can cause your pouch to expand and ... ouch!"
Yet despite her longing for carbonated beverages, she takes pride in her new lifestyle, void of sweets, bread and fast food.
"Nothing tastes as good as thin feels," Owens says.
To celebrate her success, Owens and her husband will walk the Susan G. Komen breast cancer fundraiser that covers 60 miles in three days this October in Atlanta.
"I'm on the far end of the bell curve. Most patients lose 70% of their weight. I've lost all of my excess weight and then some," she says. "I don't need to have any plastic surgery. I have very little flab or overhang. I didn't realize how bad I felt until I felt this good," she says.
For additional information on gastric bypass surgery tune into the gastric bypass surgery podcast on MedicineNet.com: Gastric Bypass Surgery: Risks and Controversy
Mara Owens, gastric bypass patient, Kingsport, Tenn.
Last Editorial Review: 7/25/2008