Fort Sanders Health & Lifestyles

John Dougherty was the big man in town. “There could be guys over 6 feet
tall in the room, but I was always ‘the big guy’ because I weighed 625 pounds and was 5-foot-9. I wasn’t overweight – I was ‘under tall,” he said jokingly. “But I didn’t want to be the big guy in the room anymore.”

So he turned to Jonathan Ray, MD, a bariatric surgeon with Foothills Weight Loss Surgeons at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center in Knoxville. It was Dr. Ray who helped him become less than “half the man he used to be” through  a robot-guided laparoscopic gastric bypass surgery known as Roux-en Y.

John, who owns a BBQ restaurant in Rocky Top, says bariatric surgery saved his life.

Since his August 2017 surgery, Dougherty lost not only 400 pounds, but also his appetite – a nice bonus for a barbecue  restaurant owner who enjoys smoked briskets and ribs as much as the customers at Coal Creek Smokehouse in Rocky Top, TN.

“I don’t think about food anymore, especially since I’m around food all the time,” said Dougherty as the sweet smell of hickory smoke and sauce-slathered ribs hung in the air around him. “I’ll eat ribs – I just don’t eat like my customers do. I’ll get a taste of these sauces, but I don’t use them because they’re full of sugar. Thanks to the surgery, I don’t eat a lot. I can’t eat a whole lot. I get filled up.”

Before his Gastric Bypass surgery, John was 600 lbs. and wore a size 6XL.

That’s the way Roux-en Y gastric bypasses work in about 80 percent of
patients, according to Dr. Ray, whose Foothills Weight Loss Surgeons practice has performed more than 2,500 bariatric surgeries.

“It’s amazing how patients lose the desire to eat,” said Dr. Ray. “When they lose that desire, they gain control. We’ve had patients say, ‘That little voice that told me to eat is gone!’

Patients lose that desire because that’s what the surgery actually does. It blocks the ‘hunger hormones’ that stimulate appetite. We have a habit of eating. That’s the problem. It’s an addiction just like any other addiction. We can break it, but it takes a lot of changes and it depends on willpower.”

The lack of willpower kept Dougherty’s weight fluctuating. He even took
second place in a “Biggest Loser” contest 15 years ago in Richmond, KY., but quickly gained back the 200 pounds he lost. “It was a never-ending cycle,” he said. “I’d work out like a beast, but wouldn’t eat right and the weight would come right back. It’s a lifestyle change, and I didn’t change.”

Before long, he was wearing 6XL to 8XL-sized shirts and size 62 pants. “My thighs were bigger than my waist so I had to get pants that would fit over my thighs too,” he said. “My legs went straight down like tree trunks, and at night, I had to put my feet up because they’d swell so much. It was miserable.”

Dr. Johnathan Ray, Bariatric Surgeon

He was too wide to fit in armchairs and couldn’t tie his shoelaces. He was too big to squeeze behind the steering wheel of most cars and required an extender on his seat belt. When he flew, the airline charged him for two seats. He got stuck in a tube slide at a water park, and had to “inch” his way down. “I have a good sense of humor, but it was horrible.”

“I wanted to be around for my three boys, but I wasn’t going to be,” he said. “I mean 600 pounds, borderline diabetic, hypertension that’s going nowhere but up – something’s going to give. It was only a matter of a time.”

Today, the 50-year-old Dougherty wears off-the-rack medium or large shirts, size 36 pants, and slips easily into armchairs, single airline seats, roller coasters and water tube slides. He ties his own shoes and looks as fit as he did during boot camp in the Army.  He works out at a gym five days a week, eats right, has reached his target weight and is enjoying life.

“Dr. Ray was able to save my life,” said Dougherty. “He’s a wonderful man, and I really appreciate him. He was great – always friendly, always positive. I’m telling you, this surgery changed my life. It did. I definitely look at things differently now and people look at me differently – I’m no longer the big guy in the room.”

Are you a candidate for bariatric surgery? The first step is to attend our free weight loss surgery sessions or view the seminar online. Call (865) 541-4500 or visit our FREE Seminar webpage.