I really don’t think I would be here today without the St. Luke’s Weight Management Center.– Ingrid
Plagued by diabetes, heart disease, and joint pain caused by obesity, Ingrid Marshall didn’t think she would live to be 60. Today, the 61-year-old Stroudsburg accountant is fit, active, medication free and half her former size. Now, an avid bicycle rider, she and her husband are planning a European bicycling cruise this summer.
Ingrid turned to the St. Luke’s Weight Management Center, the region’s most comprehensive program for both surgical and non-surgical approaches to weight loss. Unlike other weight loss programs, the St. Luke’s Weight Management Center offers wide-ranging services after surgery to help patients reach and maintain their goal weight.
“Six years ago, I thought if I did manage to survive, my husband would have to push me in a wheelchair and change my diaper,” she said.
Ingrid has vivid memories of the moment she decided she had to do something. Then 54, Ingrid had reached her all-time high weight of 315 pounds. The weight made it difficult to walk. Because it was difficult to climb stairs, she kept a basket at the bottom where she collected items needing to go upstairs, so she only had to ascend the stairs when she went to bed. The weight caused incontinence, so she kept extra clothes in the bathroom. She knew she had to change her situation and vowed to find help.
A representative of the first weight loss program she checked out gave her a packet with information and forms and told her to return when she had filled them out. Unimpressed, she went to an informational session presented by the St. Luke’s Weight Loss Center and was struck by the difference. The program was presented by bariatric and metabolic surgeon Maher El Chaar, MD, and Bariatric Services Clinical Coordinator Terri Davis, who herself had weight loss surgery 12 years earlier.
“I was impressed with the information and organization,” she said. “They thoroughly described the program, explaining the next step was a three-hour evaluation and you could make an appointment right then.” Ingrid admits she was looking for someone to “hold her hand” through the process, and felt she had found it, so she immediately scheduled an appointment for the next week.
During the session, she met with Dr. El Chaar, a social worker and a dietitian, who outlined the steps of pre-surgery, surgery, post-surgery and on-going support. The session also included a physical examination, which determined that Ingrid would need a cardiac clearance. Before she left the office, they called her cardiologist to schedule an appointment. They also suggested she have a study for sleep apnea and scheduled that too. In addition, they worked with her insurance company.
Before surgery, patients are required to attend support groups. They may also go to optional PEP (Patients Educating Patients) rally meetings, patients-only gatherings. No St. Luke’s employees attend so patients can talk freely. St. Luke’s also has a private Facebook page open only to patients. “By the time I got to my surgery, I had spoken with so many people in various stages of the process that I knew what to expect and what I needed to do.”
Ingrid’s surgery occurred in June 2016. Three months later, she joined a gym and took a Zumba dance class. The next summer she bought a bike, her first since she was a teenager, and soon after rode 26 miles on the D&L Trail. She continued to drop weight, reaching as low as 138 pounds, which was “too thin.” Today her weight hovers around 150 pounds. Due to their improved diet and exercise, her husband, who was always active, lost about 60 pounds. Should her resolve waiver, she calls the center and schedules an appointment with a dietitian to get back on track.
In the years since her surgery, Ingrid has participated in activities that she would never have dreamed of when she was heavy – dancing, axe throwing, kayaking, mountain hiking and Tough Mudder and Mud Girls Competitions. She learned of the latter two through the St. Luke’s Weight Management Center Facebook page. She and several other St. Luke’s Weight Loss Center patients walked across the Tough Mudder competition finish line holding hands. Through the Center, Ingrid has formed a network of friends who share her active and healthy lifestyle.
Committed to helping others who struggle with weight, Ingrid is active with the St. Luke’s Weight Management Center in Monroe. She co-chairs the Monroe “PEP rallies,” attends support group meetings and talks with prospective and current weight loss patients. “We don’t talk about medical issues but things like, how you deal with not wanting to go out to eat, or your grandmother saying, you have to eat her meatballs.”
While the surgery helps keep the weight off, to be successful long-term, patients must still commit to a healthy lifestyle, which is challenging, she said. Unlike many other programs, St. Luke’s Weight Management Program offers several services to help patients. These include counselor-led, in-person support groups and patient-led PEP rallies and Facebook page, where patients seek advice and encouragement from weight loss patients who face similar challenges.
“They don’t just kick you to the curb after you have the surgery,” she said. “They’re there to prop you back up when you’re struggling.” For example, Ingrid recently found it harder to resist unhealthy, calorie-laden foods. She started to fall back into old habits, so she scheduled an appointment with a Center dietitian, who gave Ingrid some ideas to resist urges. Ingrid left with a new attitude, feeling motivated to stay the course.
Ingrid loves the way she looks and enjoys buying clothes off the rack, something she couldn’t do before the surgery. But she’s most grateful for her improved energy and health.
“At 54, I couldn’t walk across the house without becoming winded. It was really sad,” she said. “I recommend the bariatric surgery 100% if you are truly ready for it. It’s a lifestyle change, and St. Luke’s helps you understand what’s involved. I really don’t think I would be here today without the St. Luke’s Weight Loss Center.”