Megan Lawson has been adventurous throughout her life. Growing up, she loved the rides at theme parks and enjoyed cruising her family’s land near Marshall, Missouri, on her all-terrain vehicle. But as Lawson grew up, the 34-year-old struggled with her weight.
She experimented with the latest fad diets. She lost weight only to regain it.
“I got myself down into a hole, and I started to question myself,” Lawson said. “ ‘Is this the plan I have set for myself? Is this how my life is going to be?’ I didn’t want to do that anymore. I wanted to live my life and enjoy it.”
Lawson turned to MU Health Care’s Missouri Bariatric Services after watching two of her friends successfully lose weight and regain their health after treatment at the clinic. By this point, Lawson weighed 347 pounds and had developed type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. She took insulin and five other medications.
“I needed a drastic life change,” Lawson said. “My insurance wouldn’t cover the surgery, so I decided to pay out-of-pocket. I was morbidly obese, so I looked at it as investing in myself.”
She met with MU Health Care’s chief of bariatric surgery, Andrew Wheeler, MD, who helped her decide which weight loss procedure to pursue in fall 2018. Lawson decided to have gastric bypass surgery, a procedure that reduces the size of the stomach and bypasses part of the small intestines. After the surgery, Lawson ate less and absorbed fewer calories to decrease both food consumption and adsorption.
“A lot of our patients have at least one or more medical problems associated with weight,” Wheeler said. “Up to 40% of our patients are diabetic, like Megan. Many have sleep apnea, high blood pressure and other issues such as joint pain, arthritis, lower back pain and high cholesterol. Megan was very dedicated to losing weight and regaining her health through the gastric bypass procedure. We see the most success at resolving diabetes from this surgery since it’s a metabolic operation that affects how your body processes, burns and stores food. It even helps the body react better to the insulin a person normally produces.”
Because Lawson was a self-pay patient, she didn’t have to complete mandatory weight management classes for a set amount of time like many insurances require. Her surgery date, Feb. 5, 2019, was also scheduled quickly after she completed her consultation and preoperative classes.
“I cried from the pre-op area to the surgery suite, because I was so upset with myself that I had gotten to this point and this is what my life had become,” Lawson said. “I saw Dr. Wheeler peering around the corner with his mask on, and he said, ‘It’s going to be OK. You’re going to have a much better quality of life after this.’ That made me feel really good.”
After spending one night in the hospital, Lawson headed home to start the next phase of her new life. Lawson had to relearn new eating habits in stages to allow her body to adjust to her new stomach. She slowly added liquids before moving on to soft and then hard foods. She also built exercise into her routine.
“You can’t just have surgery and sit around,” Lawson said. “My treadmill was my best friend because it was indoors in the middle of the living room, so I didn’t have an excuse not to do it. Obviously, I eat smaller portions and still enjoy the things I like, just in moderation.”
In addition to the preoperative and postoperative classes, Missouri Bariatric Services offers long-term support from the doctors, staff and other former patients to help new patients succeed.
“Treating obesity can be a complex process, so we have a very large team in place to help our patients be successful,” Wheeler said. “From our dietitians to our surgeons to our mental health providers to our office staff and insurance specialists — we make sure people are both safe and successful with weight loss surgery.”
Wheeler stressed that obesity is a disease. People store and expend calories differently, so approaches to weight loss vary for each person. When nonsurgical methods don’t work, surgery might be the most effective option.
Since her surgery, Lawson has lost more than 150 pounds. She is no longer diabetic and is off all of her medications. She credits her success to both the surgery and her dedication, and she urges people considering surgery not to be afraid.
“I’m doing things I never thought I would do,” Lawson said. “I’m walking up and down difficult trails. I had the stamina to make it around the fairgrounds without being too tired. I went to Silver Dollar City and rode every roller-coaster just because I could fit again. I can do anything now and don’t have limits anymore. I feel like I have my life back, and I’m so thankful for that.”