PINEHURST – The term “healthy weight” has a special meaning for one Parkton, N.C., couple. Despite years of unsuccessful attempts to lose extra pounds—hundreds of extra pounds—weight for each had become a real health danger. Bill Dixon, 50, had heart issues. His wife, Yvonne, 44, had a thyroid condition, acid reflux, sleep apnea, high cholesterol and other medical conditions related to obesity.
Today, they’re slimmer and healthier, with enough energy to spend a busy day at a theme park without tiring. Weight-loss surgery was an important part of their solution. But it wasn’t the only thing they credit for their great success.
Serious health battles
“Several years ago, I found out I had Afib (irregular heart rhythm), and at almost 400 pounds, my doctor said that my weight was certainly a factor,” says Bill Dixon. “It really scared me.”
Bill had already come through one serious health scare. In 1999, doctors gave him only a 10 percent chance of surviving stage IV non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. An optimist, his response was, “So, there’s a chance, then.” It took an experimental treatment, but he got that chance. He’s been cancer free for 18 years.
But after that hurdle, both he and his wife struggled with weight. They tried various over-the-counter systems over the years.
“But we always gained the weight back,” Yvonne says. “Sometimes, we gained more.”
Despite their lack of success in the past and with better health as a new motivation, they kept searching for a solution. Last year, they researched the bariatric, or weight-loss, program at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital.
With the people and services they discovered there, they decided to team up together to tackle the challenge once and for all.
More than a surgery
“Before most patients learn about our program, they focus on the ‘surgery’ part of bariatric services,” says David Grantham, M.D., with FirstHealth Bariatrics. “But we stress that surgery is only one day of your life. Learning how to keep on track is a lifelong commitment.”
The Dixons found that FirstHealth’s program gave them the tools to make that commitment. Since beginning the program almost a year ago, they have been able to make dramatic improvements to their health, their lives and their outlook.
Before surgery, Yvonne weighed 245 lbs., and Bill was close to 400 lbs. Since her surgery in May, Yvonne has lost 120 lbs., and now weighs 145. And Bill is down to 270 since his July surgery.
“Invested in our future”
“I have to pinch myself when I see how many milestones I’ve met,” Bill says. “After spending 18 years overweight, it felt so wonderful to say ‘good-bye’ to the big numbers on the scale.”
Both Bill and Yvonne report that the involvement of the FirstHealth staff before and after surgery is a key to their success.
“It wasn’t easy,” Bill says, “but the team at FirstHealth gives you confidence that they’ll be with you every step of the way, to help you keep on track. Knowing they would be there the whole time and had all these resources was important to me.”
Yvonne agrees. “You get support from the whole staff,” she says. “They call you, you call them. They send us Facebook messages, and they have support groups that meet every month. They really follow through. They’ve been as invested in our future as much as we are.”
“I didn’t let doubts and fears take over,” Bill says. “They (the staff) won’t let you! I’d already survived cancer, so with their help, I knew I could tackle this.”
Having seen more than 2,000 patients take similar steps through FirstHealth’s bariatric program, Dr. Grantham agrees that the support component of the program is a distinguishing factor.
“Surgery is just a tool to help patients be successful,” he says. “Every member of the bariatric team is dedicated to helping our patients.”
Also important was the mutual support of this couple.
“With my husband and me doing this together, it has been very beneficial, very positive,” Yvonne says. “We encouraged each other, while the staff at FirstHealth encouraged us both.”
Health and hard work
Weight-loss is one obvious aspect of FirstHealth’s bariatric program, of course. But there are others.
“For many of our patients, the changes are also emotional,” Dr. Grantham says. “Like the Dixons, they’ve often had a multi-year battle with weight. But we don’t necessarily make weight the focus. Instead, we focus on health and personal measurements of success. Those are different for each person, but they all take a lot of work.”
The results of the Dixon’s hard work are varied and impressive. Their new appearance is striking, but they will tell you they’re much more than a slimmed down version of themselves.
Regarding health, Bill’s improvements mean he is down from nine medicines a day to only two. Yvonne no longer needs cholesterol medicine and has reduced her thyroid medicine. “And I used to take two pills a day for acid reflux (which can cause burning and damage to the throat). Now, I don’t need anything for it!” she says.
Proven, long-lasting health benefits
Results like these are common for people who go through a successful bariatric program, such as the one at FirstHealth.
“Research shows that bariatric surgery has proven benefits for many health conditions, and the benefits are usually greater than traditional medical treatment alone,” Dr. Grantham says.
For example, a study of patients with Type II diabetes, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that those who had bariatric surgery plus traditional treatments (like medicine and changes in diet) had far superior results compared to those who had just the traditional treatments alone, Dr. Grantham says.
And the results are long-lasting. According to this research, nearly all bariatric surgery patients in the study who had Type II diabetes were able to stop taking insulin, and many of them no longer needed any type of diabetic medicines at all during the three years of the study.
As for their lifestyle, the Dixons are enjoying activities in ways they haven’t in a long time. And they will have a lot to celebrate at their 19th wedding anniversary in July.
“Before, it was a waste of money for me to pay for 18 holes of golf, because I couldn’t finish it without hurting,” he says. “Now, I don’t even use a cart!”
Exhaustion is also a thing of the past.
“We went to Universal Studios this past spring, and it never crossed my mind to stop and rest,” Bill says. “This time, instead of being tired halfway through our vacation, we concentrated on how many more rides we could cram into the day. It’s a whole new world for us, being able to enjoy things like this.”
For information about the bariatric surgery program and upcoming informational sessions at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital, call (800) 213-3284, or visit www.NCWeightLossSurgery.org.