The St. Luke’s bariatric team let me know from day 1 that I was part of the family and they’ve held true to that.– Jarvis
Six years ago, 30-year-old Jarvis Schaffer was afraid that he would die if he didn’t lose a significant amount of weight. So, he decided to have bariatric surgery. After a lot of hard work and discipline, and with St. Luke’s Weight Loss Center’s support, Jarvis lost nearly 250 pounds. Today at about 210 pounds, he is fit, active, and determined to maintain a healthy weight. A nurse, he is also pursuing a degree in psychology with the hope of one day helping others struggling with weight issues.
He says of himself and other surgical weight loss patients, “We have been strong enough to go through the surgery to save our lives. Now, we owe it to ourselves to stay honest about that.”
Jarvis 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.
In 2016, Jarvis was approaching 450 pounds. However, he believes he might have weighed more than 500 pounds at his highest. He had struggled with weight his entire life, and had an unhealthy relationship with food, saying he “ate his emotions.” In addition, years of yo-yo dieting had wrecked his metabolism.
Jarvis remembers the exact moment he decided he would change the course of his life. At the time, he was a patient care assistant at St. Luke’s Miners Campus while also attending nursing school. One day, he had just finished changing the sheets of a bedbound patient by gingerly shifting the patient from side to side as he replaced the soiled under-sheet with a clean one. As he came out of the patient’s room, a nurse he had been working with looked concerned and asked if he was OK.
“She said, ‘You’re clammy and a little gray.’ I remember that moment,” Jarvis said. “I was horrified. I was scared. That was when I drew a line in the sand and thought something had to be done.” As a health care worker, Jarvis had seen firsthand the ill effects of obesity. Patients in their early to mid-40s were wheelchair bound, required oxygen to breathe and suffered other dire consequences of obesity.
Jarvis thought if someone had heart issues, they would see a medical professional. “Similarly, your life is in danger when you’re over 400 pounds. Why wouldn’t you seek a professional’s help.”
Jarvis attended an informational session with St. Luke’s Weight Loss Center. He began attending monthly support group meetings and following the other steps outlined by the program, such as eating better and exercising, He met with a social worker to access his emotional readiness. Jarvis’ weight loss surgery was on Aug. 9, 2016, with bariatric and metabolic surgeon Leonardo Claros, MD, who Jarvis said was amazing.
After surgery, he continued to go to the support group meetings and sought support from his peers on the Center’s Facebook page. With the help of the Center’s dietitians, he re-learned how to eat and developed a healthy relationship with food. He went to the gym as often as he could. The Center’s support services helped him adopt a healthy lifestyle.
“The St. Luke’s bariatric team let me know from day 1 that I was part of the family and they’ve held true to that,” he said. “Knowing I have a team I can reach out to at any time has been so helpful and I’ve done so over the years. Checking in with the dietitian to make diet adjustments has been crucial to being successful. Even these years later, Dr. Claros will stop when he sees me and check in with how I’m doing. This type of support makes my efforts feel seen and adds to the pride I feel at what I accomplished with the tools the St. Luke’s team gave me. The surgeons operated on our stomachs, not our brains. They gave us the tools, but it is up to us to use them.”
Three months after surgery, he no longer needed the C-Pap machine for sleep apnea because after losing 100 pounds, his chest and throat were smaller, making breathing easier. He was able to exercise and took up hiking and biking. Recently, he had surgery to remove some excess skin resulting from the weight loss.
Professionally, he graduated from Nursing School and now works in the Behavioral Health Unit at St. Luke’s Sacred Heart Hospital on weekends. During the week, he is working toward a master’s degree in psychology at Wilkes University in Scranton. He hopes to one day counsel obese patients and help those on their weight loss journey.
After losing weight, he summoned the courage to ask out a pretty nursing school classmate. They fell in love, married and now have an adorable daughter Ellie, who will soon turn 2. Jarvis enjoys running and playing with her. Had he not lost the weight, Jarvis imagines he would have been relegated to a park bench where he could only watch her. But, more importantly, he expects to be around to see her grow up.
Some people are hesitant to have weight loss surgery out of fear of what they might have to give up, but Jarvis tells them what they will gain far exceeds any food they might not be able to eat. He described the excitement of riding on a plane for the first time, the comfort of fitting into a stadium seat at a sporting event and the thrill of riding a roller coaster. Also, he no longer feels the humiliation of people who give him sideways glances or make rude comments when he is in public or at the gym.
“Bariatric surgery is a big and very personal decision,” he said. “But if you’ve struggled with being overweight for some time, pick up the phone and call the Center. They won’t steer your wrong. I’m here today because I decided to get the surgery.”
When told it sounded like he had everything, he quickly responded, “Not yet.” But then, he stopped, reflected for an instant, and corrected himself, “I’m happy. I’m healthy. And maybe that is everything.”