Ashley’s Story: A Powerful Tool for Transformative Weight Loss

“It’s okay if you aren’t able to lose weight on your own. People like Dr. Watkins are here to help; we are not alone in the struggle of weight loss,” says Ashley.

Overweight since age 5, Ashley Shaw always said as a child that her preferred superpower if given the option would be invisibility. Today, the 26-year-old nurse at West Chester Hospital now embraces the experiences she once avoided.

Ashley has lost 100 pounds since her gastric sleeve surgery on December 29, 2014. “The little things make all the difference in the world: higher self-confidence, traveling without worrying about spilling into another person’s seat, sitting comfortably at the theater, even crossing my arms and legs,” says Ashley.

Brad Watkins, MD, a UC Health bariatric surgeon, medical director for UC Health Weight Loss Center at West Chester Hospital and professor of surgery for UC College of Medicine, says gastric sleeve surgery is an incredible option for many patients.

“The sleeve provides appetite suppression through our body’s normal biology—it is not a drug, there is no band, port, tubing or foreign body involved,” says Dr. Watkins. “Future risks are minimized because the procedure modifies the shape of the patient’s stomach, making it much smaller.”

Surgeons create a sleeve-like shape out of the patient’s stomach, reducing its size by about 80 percent. The minimally invasive, laparoscopic surgery provides powerful appetite suppression and can last for a lifetime. Unlike other gastric procedures, gastric sleeve surgery doesn’t require as many vitamins, aside from the normal recommended daily multivitamin, and a balanced diet.

For patients like Ashley, gastric sleeve surgery has enabled her to enjoy a happier, healthier life. “Initially I didn’t want the surgery because I thought it would label me as a failure, that I was unable to control the choices I made with food,” says Ashley. “There was a point where I was nearly 300 pounds at age 25 and I realized I needed to humble myself; that it was okay to seek help.”

Although the procedure has positive outcomes, it is not a quick fix. Dr. Watkins urges patients to regard gastric sleeve surgery as one of many tools for weight loss. “These surgeries aren’t automatic; they require continued focus and effort.”

Typically, patients of gastric sleeve surgery lose between 60 to 70 percent of their excess weight within the first year after surgery.

“It is much more about your health choices, fitness and diet, than it is about the surgery you have,” says Dr. Watkins.

More than one-third of U.S. adults are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity-related conditions are the leading causes of preventable death, including certain types of cancer, stroke, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Since her procedure, Ashley says she was shocked by the void caused by appetite suppression. “I didn’t realize how much of my life was centered around food, it really was an addiction. Food was my comfort, and I discovered that I needed to find something else to fill my time.”

Ashley is an avid crafter, keeping her hands busy creating, and she spends time training herself how to eat properly. She also walks her mother’s dog, Coco, every day through all seasons to keep fit.

“I’m more conscious of the quality of food that I eat,” she says. “The foods I choose have to be worthwhile and it’s ultimately my choice—nobody is preventing me from putting a candy bar in my mouth.”

With a dedicated weight loss plan, most patients are able to use the gastric sleeve surgery as the start to a long and healthy lifestyle. “It’s okay if you aren’t able to lose weight on your own. People like Dr. Watkins are here to help; we are not alone in the struggle of weight loss,” says Ashley. “There are many resources available to you.”

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