The surgeons at Fort Sanders Center for Bariatric Surgery, Dr. Mark Colquitt and Dr. Jonathan Ray, are well experienced and certified through the American College of Surgeons, with specialization in bariatrics. That experience goes a long way in making patients feel secure about trusting the center for weight loss services.

Kathy Romero is the program manager for the Fort Sanders Center for Bariatric Surgery and a gastric sleeve patient. "We understand because we have been there," says Romero.

Kathy Romero is the program manager for the Fort Sanders Center for Bariatric Surgery and a gastric sleeve patient. “We understand because we have been there,” says Romero.

But there’s another kind of experience you’ll find here. It’s life experience.

“The beauty of our program is that a lot of the people on staff have been bariatric patients themselves,” says program manager Kathy Romero. “We understand, because we have been there. We know exactly what it’s like.”

Romero, 67, has lost a total of about 100 pounds over the course of several years. She underwent revisional surgery, after first having a gastric banding procedure. She had the most success after the gastric sleeve procedure performed by bariatric surgeon Mark Colquitt, MD, of Foothills Weight Loss Specialists, in November, 2014.

She doesn’t like to talk about how much she weighed at her heaviest, but the memories of what life used to be like with all that extra weight have made an indelible mark. In short, she was miserable. Romero had many “comorbidities,” meaning she had medical problems that were related to the obesity.

“Sleep apnea, diabetes, I had to have an injection in my hip because I had hip pain,” Romero remembers. Walking from the parking lot to the stadium where her son played high school football was an exhausting challenge. “I had to stop various times along the way because I would be out of breath.”

When patients come to the bariatric center with a sense of hopelessness, Romero can be compassionate because she fully understands. She also respects how difficult it can be to take the first step toward change.

“I remember seeing people in my age group walking around on walkers or with canes,” Romero says.

“I realized there were two roads, and I could either go down the road that would make me healthier, or I could remain on the road I was on, continue to do what I was doing, and become that person on a walker.”

Today an energetic and vibrant Romero points patients down the road to better health, and walks with them along the way. She provides information, encouragement, and can even warn them about the pitfalls.

A different addiction

Romero explains that one such pitfall is replacement addiction. Having an unhealthy relationship with food can result in addictive behavior, and ending that relationship can leave a person vulnerable to other addictions.

“I had an Ebay addiction,” Romero says. “I was replacing my love of food with internet shopping.”

She realizes it may sound funny, but at the time it was no laughing matter. Romero couldn’t stop browsing, bidding, and ordering. It became her favorite pastime and stress reliever. It was everything that overeating had been to her before the surgery. The addiction became such a problem that her mail carrier noticed it, and even asked Romero if an intervention was needed. It was an epiphany for Romero, and she immediately began curbing her habitual spending.

Romero says food can be an addictive drug, and it’s easy for some patients to fall prey to other addictions like alcohol or gambling. Because Romero has a very personal understanding of how that happens, she’s able to walk patients through the transition.

This is just one example of how the staff at Fort Sanders Center for Bariatric Surgery can help patients in every phase of the weight loss process.

“Patients who have struggled with obesity for a lifetime don’t relate as well to someone who hasn’t experienced what they’re living through,” Romero says.

“We’ve got such a comprehensive program that patients should never feel that they don’t have support.”

Surgery for seniors

Bariatric procedures are becoming increasingly popular with those who, likeRomero, are over the age of 65. These procedures are covered by Medicare (with some stipulations). She explains that seniors generally aren’t as interested in weight loss for the sake of appearance as they are for the sake of better health.

“This is not a cosmetic procedure,” says Romero. “This is a solution to many medical comorbidities. For example, if they can get some of the weight off of their knees, they might not have to have knee replacement.”

Weight loss can also have a very powerful effect on health risks like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

Romero says the bonus is that most seniors who go through weight loss procedures have renewed energy, allowing them to play with grandchildren, exercise, and live life to the fullest.

The right time

Weight loss surgery of any kind shouldn’t happen without careful consideration. Romero says when your weight affects your health, when diet and exercise don’t help, and you’re burdened with a sense of hopelessness, it may be time to talk to your doctor about bariatric surgery.

Sometimes people who would benefit from weight loss surgery tell themselves they can’t do it because they can’t give up food, holiday parties, and cooking. Romero confesses she used to tell herself the same things.

But Romero says weight loss surgery isn’t about restrictions. It’s about hope. The food doesn’t go away, and the center helps patients create new pathways of thinking and behavior regarding food.

“Don’t ever say you can’t, because I believe the human spirit can,” Romero says. “I don’t want to see anyone give up, because there’s no reason to. There are attainable goals, and there are people here who can help you reach those goals.”

Fort Sanders Center for Bariatric Surgery offers laparoscopic Roux-en Y (gastric bypass), laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy (gastric sleeve), and repair of the LAP-Band ad-justable gastric banding system (LAP Band).

To learn more about these procedures, register to attend a free weight loss seminar or call the Foothills Weight Loss office at (865) 984-3413.