Sitting in a dim-lit room – where the only lights are the neon wire lights fading in and out along the black walls and under the desk – Sam, sitting with his back towards Sara’s back, asks, “Are you online?”
Sara replies with an attentive ‘yes’ as she, too, prepares to embark on an online-gaming session that can last hours.
For Sam Mitchell, 37, and Sara Hays, 31, this is not a new scene in their Bowie residence. They’ve been dating for eight years and continue to perfect their gaming skills together. They spend many evenings and weekends doing this because they play on a team. “We have a hard time getting out of the house sometimes,” says Sara, 31. “Sometimes we want to go out to eat, but other online gamers are depending on us to come online so they can also play.”
Although Sara had a very active childhood – playing sports like soccer, basketball and softball all the way through high school – she struggled with her weight, asserting she was always a heavy person. “I grew up with parents who would have meat, a potato and a vegetable for dinner and encouraged me to always clean up my plate,” she says. “That resonated with me for the rest of my life and I think that was part of the problem.”
Sara tried countless diets to no avail, describing the results as a yo-yo effect, where she would lose about 50 pounds and regain 70 pounds soon after.
Sara tried the gym, but didn’t feel comfortable working out in front of others. “I always feel like I’m being looked at or judged,” she says. In an attempt to look for a different alternative, the couple purchased an elliptical to workout at home. The solution lasted for merely a week before the piece of equipment was put away.
The turning point
Weight and self-image is something that has always been on Sara’s and Sam’s mind. But despite their many efforts, nothing seemed to work. They had thought about potentially undergoing surgery, but felt there was a negative stigma attached to this option because others claimed it was ‘cheating’. Their perception changed when one day an opportunity to look at things differently came knocking at their door, literally.
The woman who I met weighing over 300 pounds was now 120 pounds.
“One of our friends came over to talk to us about his wife who had done weight loss surgery,” Sam says, jokingly adding that his friend felt a little jealous because his wife was now getting more attention from others. “We had seen her before and didn’t think it could be that big of a deal. She came to our door two weeks later and when I opened the door, the woman who I met weighing over 300 pounds was now 120 pounds.”
Shocked with the results, Sara and Sam decided to look more into weight loss surgery. “I didn’t even recognize her; she was like a whole new person,” Sara recalls. “I thought to myself, ‘You were my size, how did you do this? What happened?’ She went through the process with us and her feedback was that she wished she had done it 20 years ago. That was the turning point for us.”
The couple started looking up the doctor their neighbor had used after the raving review, but were not fully sold on the idea until they came across Courtney Doyle, MD, general and bariatric surgeon with AAMG Surgical Specialists in Annapolis. After talking to other people who had done the surgery and meeting with Dr. Doyle personally, the couple was ready to move to the next step.
The AAMC Weight Loss and Metabolic Surgery Program performs more than 700 bariatric surgeries every year, a steady increase over the last few years. Recent research by the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery found that 90 percent of patients were successful in maintaining 50 percent or more of their weight loss after their bariatric surgery.
There are also health benefits that result from this, with data showing remission of Type 2 diabetes in more than 80 percent of patients after undergoing a Roux-en-Y gastric bypass and sleeve gastrectomy. After a gastric sleeve surgery, most patients can expect to lose up to 33 percent of excess weight by three months, 50 percent of excess weight by six months, and up to 70 percent of excess weight after the first year following the procedure.
Dr. Doyle first met the couple a few months ago. She recalls Sam was the first one to come in to the office and said he wanted to do this together with Sara. “They felt like they were in a position where they were ready to do well and support each other through the process,” she says.
After attending AAMC’s free bariatric seminar, where Sara and Sam learned about the types of weight loss surgery, program requirements, insurance specifics, and other details to start their weight loss journey, they put a date on their calendar for an official consultation. For Sara, the best option was to opt in for the laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy.
“This surgery is performed laparoscopically, which is the way most bariatric surgeries are performed these days,” says Dr. Doyle. “This means that we make a few very small incisions as opposed to one very large incision, the way we used to do bariatric surgery.”
The smaller stomach pouch limits how much food a person can eat at one time and in turn, will help Sara to feel full more quickly and for a longer period.
They’re looking for a way to do that and this surgery is a really nice way to help them get to a healthy lifestyle without having to feel every day like they’re constantly on a diet.
“They want to be active and healthy for the rest of their lives together,” says Dr. Doyle. “They’re looking for a way to do that and this surgery is a really nice way to help them get to a healthy lifestyle without having to feel every day like they’re constantly on a diet.”
Sara underwent surgery in January. While she continues on her successful recovery, Sam has yet to schedule his surgery due to a fractured arm. However, his excitement of being by her side while she recovers is adding to the anticipation. Stay tuned in to the Weigh Beyond series for part 2 as we continue to follow their journey in real-time.