Danielle White, 31, has struggled with her weight since she was a child.
“One of my earliest childhood memories was when I was 4 or 5 sitting at a nutritionist’s office with my mom talking about why I had trouble with my weight but my other siblings didn’t,” she says. “I struggled with childhood obesity, and I’d never been able to lose weight on my own successfully.”
Then, in her early 20s, White was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a reproductive hormonal imbalance that affects ovulation and hinders fertility. Women who are overweight are at an increased risk.
“I was told having this condition makes it hard to conceive, and one of the best things to do for that is weight loss,” White says. “And being that I had just gotten married and that would be something that I wanted to do in the future, I decided to just take the plunge and do it.”
Bariatric Surgery Leads to Improved Health—and a Second Career
“It” was bariatric surgery, which White had four years ago at age 27. She has since lost 130 pounds and has gained endurance, energy and confidence.
“I didn’t know how good I could feel. I have tons of energy now. My endurance is through the roof. I’ve done a couple of 5Ks and a sprint triathlon,” says White, who started running for exercise after her surgery. “The things that I’ve been able to accomplish has been incredible.”
One of those things was going back to school to pursue a second career. White recently graduated from nursing school at UNC Chapel Hill and is now an ICU nurse.
“I don’t think I ever would have had the nerve to go to nursing school and fight for my dream job if I hadn’t had the surgery,” White says.
Her health improved markedly as well.
“I went to my OB and she said if I had not told her I had a history of PCOS, she would not be able to detect it, which is incredible,” White says. “I don’t take medication for blood sugar, and my blood pressure is great. It’s refreshing to not have to worry if my A1C is going to be high or my cholesterol is going to be elevated when I have bloodwork now.”
Bariatric Surgery Can Cure Chronic Conditions and Improve Quality of Life
White’s improved health and quality of life are very common after bariatric surgery, says UNC Health bariatric surgeon Linda Youngwirth, MD.
“Obesity is a chronic disease that impacts every aspect of our patients’ lives,” Dr. Youngwirth says. “So, when you cure obesity with bariatric surgery, it completely changes their life.”
To qualify for insurance coverage for bariatric surgery (self-pay is also an option), a patient has to have a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or greater or a BMI of 35 to 40 with an obesity-related comorbidity such as sleep apnea, high blood pressure or diabetes. BMI is calculated from your height and weight.
“Curing their obesity helps cure those comorbidities at various rates,” Dr. Youngwirth says. “For example, up to 85 percent may see resolution of their type 2 diabetes, up to 95 percent resolution of sleep apnea and a 90 percent reduction in medicine for high blood pressure. And I have seen it cure infertility issues in my patients with PCOS.”
Recent research has shown that obese patients who undergo bariatric surgery have an increase in their life expectancy when compared to obese patients who do not undergo bariatric surgery.
In addition, patients often see a marked improvement on their quality of life.
“While I am seeing patients for obesity, most have numerous quality-of-life complaints such as they can’t move well and going to work and traveling are a challenge. They struggle to play with their kids or grandkids,” Dr. Youngwirth says.
After surgery, 95 percent of patients reported improvement in their quality of life, and up to 60 percent of patients with symptoms of depression and anxiety have resolution of those symptoms within one year of their surgery according to national data, Dr. Youngwirth says.
White remains grateful for her experience.
“The biggest thing the surgery did was give me confidence back in myself,” White says. “My weight doesn’t hold me back anymore.”
If you think bariatric surgery may be right for you or to learn more, attend a weight-loss surgery seminar at UNC Rex.