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Vertical Sleeve Surgery

A New Lease On Life

David Eckbold and family, weight loss surgery patientDavid Eckbold, 55, had gotten used to taking pills for diabetes and high blood pressure. At six-foot-three and 288 pounds, he didn't feel burdened by his weight, yet David knew that shedding pounds would make him healthier. He tried various weight loss programs and diets with little success. Then he heard that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had undergone weight-loss surgery. “It had been swirling in my head a couple months prior to that, but that was what motivated me to go forward,” says David, who had laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy, also known as vertical sleeve, at Milford Regional on September 2, 2013.

David Eckbold before surgery

David before surgery

As an added incentive, David has two daughters, Talia, 11, and Marlee, 9, and recently married his wife Robin. He found himself reflecting on the future. “I have a hideous picture of my wedding and all I can see is a man who looks nine months pregnant,” recalls David. “Living with Robin and her positive attitude got me thinking long term about what was I going to be like in 15 years and 20 years. I knew I wanted to be at the girls’ weddings and be around for grandchildren. The question was, in what condition would I be in?”

During a doctor’s appointment, David learned that Milford Regional was offering a new bariatric surgery program. Through the FreshStart program based out of The Center for Weight Loss Surgery, Milford Regional provides bariatric surgery to individuals with a body mass index (BMI) greater than 40 , or 35 if there are accompanying weight-related illnesses such as diabetes, sleep apnea, or arthritis.

David and Robin attended the introductory meeting and felt at ease with the speakers, Dr. Philip A. Cohen, one of the bariatric surgeons, and Colleen Berg, coordinator for the Center for Weight Loss Surgery and a certified bariatric nurse. “Dr. Cohen was captivating and we immediately trusted him and could feel his confidence,” recalls David. “Colleen is amazing and is the glue for the whole program as far as the patients go. It just felt right.”

David was supported through the entire process by the expertise of the FreshStart team, which includes bariatric surgeons, nurse practitioners, dietitians, behavioral health counselors and physical therapists. The couple attended group classes and individual meetings on topics such as mindful eating, nutrition basics, surgical options and what to expect. David also received a diet plan, exercise assessment and routine. Depending upon a patient’s health assessment, the program can take anywhere from three to six months to complete; David was ready in three.

“It was kind of like riding a train,” says David. “You sit down and ride through the process and you arrive at your destination and with Colleen there scheduling, it was just executing the things she told me to do.”

Colleen notes that patients are asked to make simple changes such as submitting food logs and losing 10-20 pounds to prepare their bodies for surgery. “The foundation of our program is the planning, along with our passion, our enthusiasm and energy in the communication we have with each other,” says Colleen. “It’s that knowledge that sets the foundation for their success.”

David had considered a gastric bypass, but the vertical sleeve was recommended as another option. With the sleeve, a large portion of the stomach is removed and a new, smaller stomach is created in the shape of a tube. Dr. Cohen explains that the procedure limits the amount of food the patient can eat by leading to a feeling of fullness. Patients who gain weight from sweets are often steered toward a bypass, but if portion control is the issue, as it was for David, many choose the sleeve.

"The vertical sleeve has a lot of the same metabolic effects as the gastric bypass," explains Dr. Cohen. "Unlike the gastric bypass, the vertical sleeve doesn’t involve rerouting the intestine. If people are afraid of gastric bypass or if they have medical issues where a gastric bypass wouldn’t be safe, the sleeve is a great option.”

After surgery, the FreshStart team follows up with patients in the hospital to reinforce all that has been learned. “It’s a constant acquisition of knowledge,” emphasizes Colleen. “It’s amazing to see their emotions, how they feel so empowered and have a new lease on life and an increase in quality of life.”

After surgery, Dr. Cohen says patients are walking the hallways the same day, exercising in a week and doing heavy lifting in four to six weeks. They are on a liquid diet for three weeks, and then start on solid food such as canned chicken and yogurt. Protein becomes the staple of their diet. David, who lost 30 pounds the first month, left the hospital off his diabetes medication and was soon taken off his blood pressure medication. He has noticed more spring in his step, his hip no longer bothers him and he feels satisfied after eating.

“I'm absolutely, completely grateful for what I received and also the care while I was in the hospital,” says David. “This hunger is nothing compared to the old hunger.”

Robin prepares meals including packing and measuring his lunch for work. They invested in a crockpot and crockpot cookbooks, along with five-ounce glass measuring containers.

“Every night she's mixing up shakes and measuring amounts of cottage cheese and yogurt,” marvels David. “She's always there to remind me to slow down when I'm eating and chew to 22. I knew going in that her support was more important to my success than me laying down and having an operation.”

Robin said she appreciates how the FreshStart team answered all of her questions and eased her worries. “I was so impressed with the entire process from the beginning to being home,” she says emphatically. “Every single thing they said was going to happen happened on time and happened correctly. I am extremely proud of my husband. This is a gigantic life change for him to have actually had surgery to be healthier and it brings me joy to see him doing this every single day.”

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