Patients Find Fewer Drawbacks with Gastric Sleeve

Stephens initially planned on gastric band surgery, during which the upper stomach is banded off to create a smaller pouch, and nothing is cut out or redirected (as the intestines are with gastric bypass surgery). But she researched and found Dr. Chae, who described yet another option: gastric sleeve. "It's less surgery than the traditional bypass, and long-term outcomes do consistently reveal more weight loss than the lap band," Dr. Chae says.

With this relatively new procedure, the normally football-shaped stomached is trimmed to look more like a banana, and the body and person adjust by learning to eat less. Some patients report that they simply never feel cravings again. The chief benefit over gastric band: No foreign object is left inside the body, and routine adjustments (thus repeated surgeries) are not required.

Dr. Chae goes over all options carefully with patients, so they can make the best choice for their situation. "He answers all of your questions," Stephens says. "He’s really good about that." Dr. Chae has performed more than 3,000 total bariatric procedures, including about 1,000 gastric-sleeve surgeries since beginning to offer the latter procedure three years ago. All can be performed laparoscopically, using tiny incisions and instruments to reduce scarring and speed recovery.

"I was impressed with Dr. Chae and all of the surgeries he'd done," Stephens says. And she was attracted by the Sky Ridge Center of Excellence, which had everything she needed right there: nutritionists, psychologists, all key requirements for preparing for bariatric surgery. "The nutritionist teaches you things, like how to get away from caffeine and carbonated beverages and how to eat slower. You start ahead of time, so adjustment after surgery is easier."

Minimally Invasive Procedure Changes Lives

Stephens stayed in the hospital one night, and the discomfort was minimal. "I had more pain with my C-section." She was on a liquid diet for a while, but says, overall, the experience was easy and smooth. She's amazed by the progress, going from a size 26 to a 16 already.

Debbie Stephens After Gastric Sleeve

Debbie Stephens celebrates a birthday with her family after gastric sleeve surgery.

"I never thought I’d see a pant size that had a 1 in front of it again. I can actually feel good about the way I look," Stephens says.

Her best advice to others considering bariatric surgery: "Don't be afraid, and don't feel like you're a failure. It's not a failure to have to do this. It's just another tool to get there. And getting there and losing the weight is so magnificent. There were a lot of things that I'd kind of written off because of my weight that I’m now penciling back into my bucket list," Stephens says, including climbing Longs Peak and floating the Grand Canyon.

She attends monthly support groups at Sky Ridge to meet her goals. At the top of the support-group subject list right now? Holidays. "This will be my first holiday. But I'm going to do it. I'm still going to cook exactly the same as I've always cooked. I'll just use a smaller plate, choose only what I really want to eat, and forget about the clean-plate club." And, yes, she says, most of all: "I'll remember what the holidays are really all about."

See the beginning of Debbie's story

By Debra Melani, sponsored health writer