Meet Rachel Bemis. She is a 42-year-old elementary teacher from Western Montana’s Bitterroot Valley.
Rachel was an average kid by most standards; an active and fit child who didn’t struggle with her weight. During college she gained the “freshman 15,” but continued with an active lifestyle. However, as Rachel hit her twenties, she began to slowly gain weight even though she was active with her friends—walking, hiking—and before she knew it, she was a 25-year-old who weighed over 200 pounds.
Over the years, she made many attempts to shed the weight—diets, fitness programs, weight loss programs--and during COVID, Rachel worked with a dietician, exercised and lost 30 pounds. But she was still teetering on having high cholesterol and diabetes.
During a late summer vacation in 2021, Rachel felt bloated and uncomfortable. She went to her primary physician and was surprised when the scale read 272 pounds.
Her physician suggested she consider weight loss surgery. “I had gained 20 pounds and didn’t know it,” Rachel said. “But I still thought I could lose weight on my own.”
So, determined to succeed, Rachel joined a gym, started meal planning, worked out with a buddy, walked, swam and hiked.
Over the course of 7 months, she lost 5 pounds.
She realized it was time for an intervention and began researching bariatric surgical options. She was skeptical, at best. She had friends who had not been successful with the surgery. Both her grandparents and parents were overweight, and she had a family member who had had bariatric surgery, but who made poor decisions after surgery, and the weight crept back.
She researched, went on social media to connect with others who had bariatric surgery, and spoke on the phone with patients who had surgery in Missoula and elsewhere. She communicated with her insurance company to make sure all was in place.
With her physician’s guidance, Rachel decided to have a sleeve gastrectomy.
More than four million people in the United States are more than 100 pounds overweight – considered “morbidly obese.” Other health problems can accompany the weight: heart disease, type II diabetes, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, gastroesophageal reflux, incontinence, arthritis, infertility and some cancers.
Bariatric surgery has seen many advances over the last few years – offering more minimally invasive options. That means fewer incisions, less pain and a shorter recovery time. At Providence St. Patrick Hospital, bariatric surgeons offer two weight loss procedures:
- Gastric bypass surgery: The most common weight loss surgery is the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass that creates a small pouch in the stomach, which is connected directly to the small intestine. This limits the amount of food a person can comfortably eat and the amount of nutrients and calories the body absorbs.
- Sleeve gastrectomy: the surgeon removes about three-fourths of the stomach and reshapes what’s left into a “sleeve.” The smaller stomach makes a person feel full sooner and greatly reduces how much food you can eat.
Rachel had surgery in August 2022, and by May 2023, her weight was down to 165 pounds. And she is committed to living a healthy and active life.
The results are from keeping herself on track with the recommendations from her physician. No alcohol, no juice, no soda. Her students see her drinking water all day, focusing on high protein snacks and other healthy options. Rachel continues to work out in her local gym or hike before work 5 days a week.
“When it comes to my students, they see a role model for healthy choices. I reached out; I needed help! This was the right decision for me, and I have no regrets!”