Greater Baltimore Medical Center
"Bariatric Surgery Saved My Life"

Helen Roby's Story

My name is Helen Roby and I am sharing my experience with you in the hope that I may in some small way influence someone who is experiencing the multiple problems associated with obesity. I understand full well all that you are going through, but I want you to know that it does NOT have to be this way. There is hope for you no matter how complicated your health may be, and age does not matter.

On September 25, 2013 I visited my primary care physician for my quarterly checkup. At that time I was 69 years of age, 5'11'' and weighed 335 pounds. I had very little mobility in life and any movement that I was able to make was through the assistance of a bariatric seated walker. I was on daily medications for diabetes in the form of pills and shots and also took medication for gout, high blood pressure, Lupus, CERD, fibromyalgia and depression. I also suffered from sleep apnea.

A former elementary and middle school principal, I was forced to take early retirement in 2008 due to my lack of mobility. I also was having severe problems with balance and was falling frequently which resulted in broken bones and severe stenosis. I had my right radial head of my elbow replaced in 1998 due to one of these falls and due to my weight at the time, my elbow was shattered. I had a knee replacement because of the pressure on my knees, a direct result of my weight. I suffered from severe spinal stenosis and underwent a laminectomy from the base of my neck to my tailbone. I actually cracked my tailbone during one of my falls.

I did everything that I possible could to lose weight and I was sincere in my efforts to do so. Because of my Lupus and gout I often had to take steroids, which only contributed to my lack of weight control. In 2012, I fell and severely fractured my wrist and at the same time I had an infection in my toe. I was admitted to the hospital for my toe infection and a further test revealed that gout had actually devoured the bone in my toe. I eventually had that toe amputated.

Time and time again, I tried to control the gout through suggested diets, but the diet for one condition always seemed to interact with the diet for another condition, especially diabetes. So, on that morning of September 25, 2013, when I arrived at my primary care office, I felt hopeless. The doctor knew me and he knew that I WAS doing everything within my power to overcome my weight problem and all of the complications associated with my weight. It was on that day that Dr. Paul Valle suggested that I consider having a gastric bypass. I literally balked at the idea. I had heard so many horror stories related to bariatric surgery and I did not want to complicate my life any further. In addition to my concerns with rumors, I feared that I was too old – remember I was 69.

Dr. Valle assured me that my age would not be a factor because he knew me to always be compliant. He requested that I trust him and at least attend an education session. Dr. Valle had been my physician for over 27 years and he had always had my back. Trusting his guidance, I attended my first meeting at GBMC COMP the following week. The rest is history.

Dr. Elizabeth Dovec was new to GBMC's bariatric surgery team and she present that evening. I was in awe with all that I had learned during the presentation and received a ray of hope. I made an appointment with Dr. Dovec and met with her within two weeks.

I was very impressed with my first appointment. I not only met with Dr. Dovec but also with several other team members who in turn explained various aspects of the program. I received a binder containing my personal schedule of future appointments and other meetings that were required. The binder contained detailed information of every stage of the program and all pre- and post-op stages.

Returning home I began reading the binder and highlighting various aspects. Dr. Dovec had just started a COMP Facebook page and she urged me to join immediately. I did, which was a very good decision because the Facebook page gave me direct contact with other bariatric patients. I immediately began to prepare myself for surgery by first detoxifying my body from those foods and drinks which I would not be able to eat post-op. I began first by eliminating sugar during the first week, and then, white flour products, caffeine and finally carbonated beverages. Within a month I was free of all of those food products which had enslaved me for years. As a diabetic I always watched my sugar intake but did not know that carbohydrates, in general, were my enemies.

During my initial visit I was introduced to Liz Dumont whose role was to get all patients moving. She suggested that I should join the MAC (Maryland Athletic Club) located in Timonium. I questioned this suggestion because I could barely walk with a walker, let alone exercise, AND I lived in Dundalk (which was quite a distance from the MAC). Because of my back and joint problems, Liz insisted that the heated salted pools at the MAC would serve to increase my mobility. In spite of my apprehensions, my desire to become well and lose all of my extra weight was primary in my life, so I remained open minded and made an appointment to visit the MAC.

Once again I was pleasantly surprised with the level of understanding, knowledge of what I needed to do to be successful, and the complete dedication of the team at the MAC. I was assigned to the Wellness Center and the Healthy Start Program which included the daily assistance of a trainer. Rick became my coach, and Liz continued to monitor my progress and always encourage me. Upon entering the gym I could NOT sit on the benches to change my clothing and shoes, yet the director of the Wellness Program, Vanessa, challenged me to set a goal to give up my walker within a month. Through strenuous guided exercises of strength and endurance, my range of motion increased and I gave up that walker in less than a month. The end result of exercising three days per week for at least 90 minutes to 120 minutes for each visit: I became mobile and lost 40 pounds before my surgery.

On February 7, 2013, I had gastric bypass surgery and my life was restored beyond anything I could ever imagine. I take this program seriously and recognize that I am and will always be a compulsive overeater. I do NOT eat what is not good for me. This is a choice that I must make every day. The surgery provides the tool, a smaller stomach or pouch which makes it difficult to eat large amounts of food, especially in the early post-op stages. However, we each have free will and must commit to a healthy way of living which includes proper nutrition, exercise and contact with other people who have the same illness that I have. Following this program has enabled me to lose a total of 165 pound as of my last visit in August of 2015.

I feel so good. I have so much energy. I have complete mobility at the age of 71 and I am off all of my medications with the exception of my Lupus medication and thyroid replacement (because my thyroid was removed). I am so grateful to Dr. Dovec and her team, Dr. Paul Valle (who suggested that I make this change in my life) and the MAC gym employees who helped me in so many ways. I would be remiss if I did not express my gratitude to God who led me to and through this journey and to all of the men and woman who are a part of this program and a constant source of support through meetings and Facebook.

So if you are in a state of hopelessness because you suffer from being overweight, I hope that I have given you the hope that you, too, can change your life. Make that call. Set that appointment and attend your first meeting. You may just happen to save your life.

Since having bariatric surgery, I have been able to get off all of my medication. I have been restored to health. I have lost 165 pounds. I can drive once again and fully participate in life. The summer before my surgery, it took four men to get me out of my son's pool when I went in to be with my granddaughter. Within five months after my surgery, in the summer of 2014, I ran up the ladder to get out of that pool alone.

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