A brand new ‘me’

Fashion show for bariatric patients showcases success

When these models take to the catwalk, they have a signature walk like no other -- one that shows hope, good health and a new found confidence. For many bariatric surgery patients, it is the strut of a person who just began truly living.

Thirty-eight bariatric patients took a walk down the catwalk on Thursday night at the Blount Memorial Weight Management Center Bariatric Fashion Show, which was held at the Airport Hilton in Alcoa. The eighth annual bariatric fashion show, Celebrate in Style, celebrates eight years of bariatric surgery and more than 75,000 pounds lost.

The event was hosted by the Weight Management Center, Foothills Weight Loss Specialists and Ethicon Endo-Surgery and featured success stories from weight loss surgery patients, along with salutes to Dr. Mark Colquitt and Dr. Jonathan Ray for their service to hundreds of patients.

Post-weight loss surgery models shared their stories, thanked their support systems and talked to others who may be considering bariatric surgery. The show featured gastric bypass, gastric band and gastric sleeve patients.

Bethany Hamel, gastric bypass patient, had surgery in July 2010, and has lost 71 pounds. Hamel’s story involved many health problems, which worried her and her family, and became startling when she thought she was experiencing a heart attack. Hamel decided to make a change in her life, and says it’s the “best thing I’ve ever done.” Hamel’s sister addressed the crowd in tears of joy, thankful for her sister’s improving health.

“Most of all, I want to thank you for saving my sister’s life,” Kristi Clarke said to the staffs of the Blount Memorial Weight Management Center and Foothills Weight Loss Specialists.

Sixty-six-year-old Cookie Howell, gastric band patient, said at the event that she’s now able to do things that she could never do before. “For the first time ever, I went on a mission trip to Belize.” Howell said she was able to put her seat belt on without an extender on the airplane, and was able to keep up with younger people on the trip. For older adults who may be considering bariatric surgery, Howell encouraged, “You’re not too old to do this.”

Gastric sleeve patient Amanda Patty had her surgery in January 2010, has lost 103 pounds and said she can walk three to six miles a day now. “I feel good, and I feel proud,” Patty says. She thanked all of those who supported her over the past year.

Blount Memorial bariatric surgeon Dr. Jonathan Ray said he was glad to be a part of the fashion show and to be able to listen to all of the stories. “They are the reason that we do this,” he said. Ray explained that doctors learn and hear about lives changing while they are in medical school, and now he actually gets to be a part of the process. “We’ve seen patients in wheelchairs who are now able to walk,” he said of him and Colquitt.

The doctors and Weight Management Center staff have watched patients become free from diabetes and witnessed their blood pressures normalize. They’ve seen patient’s becoming physically and mentally healthier as they come off their medications. They watch and support the patients as their lives change.

“It’s the most amazing thing,” Ray said.

For those who may be considering weight loss surgery as a future option, Ray recommends that they come to a free seminar, go to weight loss surgery support groups and talk to patients. “What better way to get information than from someone who walked that mile,” he added.

Blount Memorial Weight Management Center registered nurse, certified bariatric nurse and bariatric coordinator Dana Bradley said that those who think surgery is “the easy way out,” are misinformed. “The surgery is the easy part. It’s up to the patients to make it a success by continuing to work hard and progress. We just give them the tools for their toolbox.”

Weight Management Center director, registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator Angie Tillman said it is great to watch the transformation of the patients. “It’s always inspirational to hear patients tell stories of their success and how they have changed their lives.”

For more information, Ray said to sample from the “tray of hope” by registering for an upcoming seminar or joining an upcoming support group. “The world is your oyster,” he encouraged. Call the Blount Memorial Weight Management Center at 865-977-4673 to find out more.

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