Seeing both sides of bariatric surgery

Gastric bypass helps surgical nurse lose nearly 160 pounds


Mandy Pate, R.N., with Oliver Varban, M.D., has a lot in common with those seeking weight loss surgery.

Mandy Pate, R.N., is an operating room nurse whose patients are obese. They are here at the University of Michigan Health System for either a gastric bypass or a sleeve gastrectomy. Mandy, age 34, has more in common with her patients than you might suspect, seeing her trim size-12 figure. A year ago, Mandy was a patient herself and had a sleeve gastrectomy performed by members of her own surgical team, including Oliver Varban, M.D.

“It’s been a battle with my weight since I was three or four years old,” she says. “I’ve spent my life constantly dieting and I’ve probably taken every weight-loss medication there is, but in the last few years, I couldn’t even bend over to tie my shoes!”

Since her surgery on April 4, 2014, Mandy has lost 157 pounds, down from a pre-surgery weight of 333 pounds. Before surgery, she wore size 5XL scrubs and size 30 street clothes. Today she wears medium scrubs and size 12 clothing, and says she has much more energy.

For people considering this surgery, Mandy recommends looking at the U-M Adult Bariatric Surgery website and attending one of the free information meetings in order to know what’s ahead.

“The doctors and staff are wonderful, and these are very safe procedures,” she says.

Mandy's health has improved since the days when she wore size 5XL scrubs.

Mandy’s health has improved since the days when she wore size 5XL scrubs.

But she cautions that the surgery is a tool, not a miracle, and people need to exercise and eat right afterward.

The decision to have bariatric surgery is a process, and prospective patients must meet some criteria that take time to achieve. The steps include:

  1. Attending one informational meeting
  2. Completing a medical and nutritional questionnaire
  3. Appointments with a physician assistant and a nutritionist
  4. Taking a three-hour psychological test
  5. Attending two bariatric support group meetings
  6. Everyone on the team who saw the patient meets to decide if the patient is ready, or if something else is necessary prior to surgery. For example, the team said Mandy needed a sleep study.

“We have a wonderful support group that includes nutritionists, endocrinologist, psychosocial support and exercise physiologists. It’s a nice support community so the patient is not alone,” she says.

Mandy’s procedure, the sleeve gastrectomy, involved removing about 80 percent of the stomach. A typical stomach can hold 32 ounces of food and liquid comfortably – after surgery, it can hold 4 ounces of food and is about the size of a banana. She said an unanticipated benefit was that the section taken out produces a hormone to stimulate the appetite. With that section of the stomach gone, she finds she doesn’t feel hungry very often.

Mandy’s post-surgery tips:

  • Get ready for small meals: one tablespoon full to start, working up to ½ cup as the total size of your meal.
  • Eat slowly, make portions look bigger by putting them on a smaller plate. Find ways to distract yourself when eating in a restaurant, since others will have more to eat and take longer to eat it.
  • But food is still important. Eat a minimum of 70 grams of protein daily. Get creative with protein shakes, bars, and mixing protein powder into foods.
  • Avoid starchy foods. They cause bloating, which isn’t fun.
  • Don’t drink from straws. They make you swallow air, which your stomach won’t like.
  • Daily exercise is a must. Exercise an hour a day, plus extra time for weight training.

Mandy says she used to be afraid of going out, of dealing with tight quarters in unaccustomed places. The surgery made her successful and has given her hope. Her aches and pains are gone, she sleeps better and she knows she’ll live a longer life.

Take the next step:

  • Call (734) 647-6685 to schedule an informational meeting.
  • Learn more about MHealthy, the University of Michigan’s health and well-being program.