Weight-Loss Surgery in Northwest Georgia
In the weeks leading up to a Disney World trip, Jay Martin wondered how he would tolerate the physical demands of the theme park just three months into his recovery from gastric bypass surgery.
“I did better than I thought I would,” said Martin, rehab manager of the AdventHealth Sports Med & Rehab clinics in Rome and Cedartown. “I was walking miles each day. There was a huge difference in riding the rides. I had lost enough weight that I felt like I fit, whereas before I felt like I was squeezing in.”
Before his October 2022 surgery, the Rome resident had type 2 diabetes with high blood pressure and had been treating his conditions with three oral medications.
“It instantly cured my high blood pressure and diabetes,” Martin said of the surgery. “I have not taken [those three medicines] since the day before the surgery.”
Martin, now 35, is among a growing number of patients who are turning to AdventHealth Redmond for life-changing metabolic and bariatric surgeries.
“With AdventHealth purchasing Redmond [in late 2021], the desire to put resources in this service line has increased, and we have the overarching goal to obtain accreditation,” said Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Coordinator Sarah Hunt, MSN, RN, CCRN. “We want to become a Center of Excellence.”
Harbin Clinic providers J. Ryland Scott, MD, FACS, Peter Adams, MD, and P. Bennett Brock Jr., MD, make up the program’s surgical team.
“My hope is for Northwest Georgia to be a destination location for bariatric surgery,” said Program Medical Director Dr. Scott, a board-certified, fellowship-trained laparoscopic and bariatric surgeon. “When patients come here, I want them to know they will have excellent health outcomes, as well as a personal touch. Exceptional outcomes, quality care and personal attention are the driving characteristics of the program.”
At 30, Martin learned he had type 2 diabetes after he was denied life insurance following the birth of his son. At the time, he didn’t think bariatric surgery was an option but later learned from Dr. Adams that he qualified.
“I was under the impression bariatric surgery was for weight loss and was for morbidly obese people to lose weight,” he said.
But guidelines updated last year now allow for people over the age of 18 with a body mass index (BMI) between 30 and 34.9 to qualify if they also have a metabolic disease, such as diabetes. Under the new guidelines, adults with a BMI of 35 or greater also qualify, regardless of the presence, absence or severity of other diseases.
“It essentially opens up the procedure to so many more patients,” Hunt said.
Dr. Scott said many people share Martin’s initial misconceptions.
Hunt, who underwent a sleeve gastrectomy in 2019 in another state after she was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol, often shares her own positive experience when she counsels patients through the multi-level screening process and extensive patient education.
“It’s really important the patient is committed to making these lifestyle changes,” she said. “They are forever committing to this new way of eating and committing to an exercise program and taking vitamins for the rest of their life.”
Martin said portion control and other elements of the bariatric diet have been challenging, but he remains committed to his new lifestyle for the same reason he opted to have the surgery.
“The decision, for me, to pursue bariatric surgery wasn’t so much for the weight loss, but for eliminating my diabetes diagnosis and being off my high blood pressure medication,” he said. “I wanted to be around as long as I could be around for my little boy and my family.”
“My patients, early in my career, were the sickest of the sick,” he said. “That’s not the current mindset anymore.”
He said many patients have struggled to lose weight through diet and exercise and fear surgery won’t be a success either.
“Everyone focuses on the weight loss, but really, it’s an intervention to improve overall health, life expectancy and quality of life,” he said.
In addition to maintaining their weight loss, studies have shown the majority of bariatric surgery patients experience high rates of remission of their diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and obstructive sleep apnea following the surgery.
“It’s not just about the impact on the scale, but curing diabetes, curing high blood pressure and sleep apnea,” Dr. Scott said. “It’s about being able to cross your legs for the first time in years and getting on the ground to play with your kids and not having to buy two seats when you fly. That’s really the difference we make.”
Thirty-one people underwent either Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery, like Martin, or a sleeve gastrectomy at AdventHealth Redmond in 2022, an increase from 12 the year before, Hunt said. Both procedures effectively limit the amount of food a person can consume.
During a gastric bypass procedure, the surgeon creates a small, egg-sized pouch from the stomach and connects it directly to the small intestine. During a sleeve gastrectomy, the surgeon removes 75 to 80 percent of a patient’s stomach, leaving a section that resembles the size and shape of a banana.
The minimally-invasive laparoscopic surgeries, which can also be robotic-assisted procedures in many cases, are not only an effective, long-lasting treatment for obesity, but are just as safe or safer than many other common surgeries, such as a hip replacement, Dr. Scott said.
“None of those other operations prolong life expectancy and yet, we have an operation that cures up to 60 different obesity-related problems and changes people’s life expectancy,” he said.
Most patients go home the day after the procedure with minimal pain and return to work after two weeks, he said.
“The number one comment I hear is, ‘I wish I had done it sooner,’” Dr. Scott said.