October 15, 2019
For Jerod Greenlee, life was a spectator sport. He watched others go to the movies, plan trips to amusement parks and take vacations – things his 415-pound frame kept him from doing.
He had tried to lose weight many times, using diet plans, prescription medications and sheer willpower. Nothing worked. The breaking point came when Jerod met his biological father via email.
"I learned he has a lot of health issues," Jerod says. "That's when I started to take my health seriously. I was turning 30. I had to do something."
Because of the extra weight, Jerod suffered from sleep apnea and was at risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, joint issues, high cholesterol and certain cancers. It was time to consider other weight-loss options.
A surgical approach to weight loss
Jerod knew of a friend who had had bariatric surgery, a procedure called gastric sleeve surgery that permanently reduces the stomach from the size of a football to the size of a skinny banana. With a smaller stomach, Jerod would eat less, feel full faster and lose weight – a lot of weight. Most people who have the sleeve procedure lose 60-80% of their excess weight in 2 years, significantly improving their health and lowering their risk factors for weight-related diseases.
Jerod talked with his primary care physician, quit smoking and educated himself about bariatric weight-loss surgery options. He saw an advertisement for bariatric surgery at The University of Kansas Health System. After reading the bio of bariatric surgery specialist Bernita Berntsen, MD, he scheduled a consultation in Overland Park, Kansas.
"Within 24 hours of meeting Dr. Berntsen, I knew I wanted to have my surgery at The University of Kansas Health System," Jerod says. "Her calm, caring demeanor relaxed me instantly. And everyone else around her made my experience that much better."
Patients need to see this surgery as a tool and not a quick fix. Incorporating healthy eating habits is key to maintaining weight loss. – Caitlin TylerDietitian
The health system's multidisciplinary care approach helped foster Jerod's weight-loss success. Three months before bariatric surgery, he had lab work, a mandatory sleep study and psychological evaluation to ensure he had the proper coping skills to help him manage the major life change he was about to experience.
His care team included Caitlin Tyler, a dietitian.
"Patients need to see this surgery as a tool and not a quick fix," she says. "Incorporating healthy eating habits is key to maintaining weight loss. Jerod was a good candidate for the surgery because he knew the lifestyle changes he needed to make and was committed to making them."
In addition, he learned about a monthly weight-loss support group and received a guide, detailing what to do and expect before and after surgery.
"It gives you shopping lists and recipe ideas for each phase along with how-tos for recovery," he says. "I followed it to a T."
Presurgery weight loss
Four weeks before the bariatric surgery, Jerod began a liquid diet and lost 22 pounds.
"The pre-op weight loss makes the liver more supple and easier to move during surgery," Dr. Berntsen says.
On October 10, 2018, Jerod arrived for surgery, confident he was in good hands.
Dr. Berntsen is among the health system's team of bariatric surgeons who have performed more than 3,000 bariatric surgeries since 2002. During the procedure, the surgeon removes the part of the stomach that makes a hormone that boosts appetite and then joins the remaining portions of the stomach to make a new banana-sized stomach – the sleeve.
After bariatric surgery, Jerod spent the night in the hospital. He went home the following evening.
For the next 6 weeks, he slowly reintroduced foods into his diet, beginning with clear liquids, then whole liquids – such as protein shakes and puddings – then soft foods and finally solid foods. He met with his dietitian again when he was ready to transition to solid foods.
Dr. Berntsen says within 1-2 years, patients typically can eat whatever they want. They just won't eat much of it because the stomach can't stretch. Jerod learned this quickly.
"I can't overeat or eat too fast because I will throw up," he says.
205 and counting
The experience has completely changed his relationship with food and generated dramatic bariatric surgery results.
"Before, I would eat mindlessly," he says. "Now, I eat to be healthy."
His lifestyle changes include exercise and choosing protein and vegetables over high-fat, high-sugar foods that now make him sick. When he wants something sweet, he opts for a bite of something sugar-free.
As of August 2019, 10 months after surgery, Jerod had lost 205 pounds. He no longer needs a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to sleep.
"I never thought I would lose this much weight, but that wasn't my goal," Jerod says. "My goal was to become healthier and to participate in the daily activities most people take for granted."
Periodic checkups help Jerod's care team identify issues that could cause him to rebound, which is not uncommon in bariatric patients.
"It is a long-term disease, and surgery does not cure it," Dr. Berntsen says. "We want our patients to do well forever."
"This has been the best experience of my life," Jerod adds. "I'm a lot more active."
Since the surgery, Jerod landed a new job. He plans to graduate from Baker University in May 2020 with an MBA.