Sue Beerman, Bariatric Surgery

It was around the sixth grade when Sue Beerman became, in her own words, "overweight," and the unfair comments and not-so-subtle insults started.

Later, as an adult, she would often walk into stores and be ignored by the clerks.

Today, Sue Beerman -- the very same bright and loving and pretty person she always was -- is no longer the unfair brunt of comments about her weight. Her secret? She had bariatric surgery at Borgess Medical Center in November 2008.

"I've lost 135 pounds and I feel terrific," Sue said. "Like any woman, of course, I'd like to lose 10 more pounds."

A native of Marquette in the Upper Peninsula, Sue currently is office manager at the Calhoun County Medical Care Facility, a skilled nursing home. She and her husband Mike, who works for the City of Battle Creek, moved to the Cereal City in 1986. Their daughter, Elizabeth, recently took a job at the Medical Care Facility after completing a master's degree at Grand Valley State University.

Sue said that she tried for many years to lose weight. "Like so many people, I'd lose weight and gain weight and lose weight. It seemed like I was a life-long member of Weight Watchers, which is a good program."

One Sunday morning four years ago, at a time when she weighed 308 pounds, she saw a print advertisement about a seminar on bariatric surgery led by Dr. Stuart R. Verseman, a general and bariatric surgeon. In the seminar, she read, Dr. Verseman and a Borgess specialized registered dietitian provide information on many aspects of laparoscopic bariatric surgeries.

The seminars continue to be offered on a regular basis. Information is available by calling (269) 226-6863.

"I hesitated about attending but Mike was very, very supportive and encouraged me to go," she said.

That was in February 2008 and over the next several months she prepared for the surgery, which was done that November.

Dr. Verseman performed what is called a Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, a permanent procedure where only a small part of the stomach is used to create a new stomach pouch, which is about the size of an egg. The smaller stomach is connected directly to the middle portion of the small intestine, bypassing the rest of the stomach and the upper part of the small intestine.

As with all gastric bypass surgeries, the idea is to make the person feel full more quickly and with less food and consequently eat less. By bypassing a part of the small intestine, less food and nutrients are absorbed. Together the two factors lead to weight loss.

"I was in the hospital only three days and I had zero complications except for a minor drop in potassium," Sue said.

Still, as with all gastric bypass surgeries, the real work begins after surgery. "For that first month you have to think about what you eat and drink every minute of the day," she said. "You have to set up a daily pattern of when you eat and when you drink. In the beginning you constantly watch the clock, you constantly have to remind yourself to drink slowly and to take small bites and eat slowly and to chew, chew, chew.”

"You can't drink when you eat because the liquid moves the food through the stomach too quickly and you don't feel as full.

"I did so well, I really did. After about two months I was on a regular schedule of eating. But you never can forget about the importance of taking that half hour to eat."

Sue said there are not any restrictions on what she can eat and that, unlike some people who have had gastric bypass surgery, she is not sensitive to any foods. Every day she has 60 grams of protein in a 1,200-calorie diet.

Another key to her success, she said, has been the follow-up visits to Borgess for help and advice. "Borgess is awesome," she said. "Dr. Verseman, Karen Orr and the nurses -- everybody -- is great there. When I was in the hospital I had nurses tell me that they had bariatric surgery and were a great help in telling me what to expect.

"I think that the follow-up meetings with Dr. Verseman and the staff is one reason why there are so many success stories at Borgess. Dr. Verseman is very persistent in reminding us to take the vitamins and to have lab work done so that we know we are getting the proper nutrition."

Rebecca Blades, a registered nurse who leads the Bariatric program at Borgess, said that a key to the program's success has been the follow-up after surgery, a way to ensure that patients are not cut loose to fend for themselves. "Surgery is just a tool," Blades said. "Those who have the surgery need to exercise and know how to eat and when to eat and what to eat. The eating techniques as well as the dietary requirements are a very big piece to the patients’ success. These skills are taught to our patients by our two bariatric specialized registered dieticians before the surgery and then in follow-up appointments after the surgery. These are the things that make for long-term success."

The Borgess Health & Fitness Center provides a specialized exercise program for Bariatric Surgery patients. The program includes advice on how to start an exercise program and recognizes that many patients have never exercised before. "Exercise is a big component," Blades said.

She described Sue as "very engaged" in her efforts for long-term success and praised her for her participation in the monthly support group sessions.

"The support group is as important as exercise," she said.

Each month the sessions are led by Ben Blades, a registered nurse and certified bariatric support group leader. He starts each session with an educational component -- proper hydration, for example, or ways to ensure participants get enough protein, a critical life-long dietary need.

"Once he is done with that he opens the meeting to discussion," she said. "It is awesome to see the peer to peer support. They hold each other accountable and it's almost like another family."

Sue said the support group staff points to her as a role model for the way to best succeed after surgery.

"After the surgery I felt the need to give back in some way," she said. "I hope that by sharing my journey it can help someone else make the decision to have bariatric surgery."

Besides the support group sessions, Sue loves to swim and participates with Elizabeth in a cardiovascular workout two or three times a week. "Before the surgery I would never have been able to complete the one-hour class," she said.

Last summer while visiting her sister in the Upper Peninsula the two paddled kayaks in a river that flows into Lake Superior, a trip she would have avoided before because she feared that she couldn't get into a kayak.

"It was gorgeous," she said. "We saw deer and other animals and the lake was beautiful."

Sue said that a key factor in the success of bariatric surgery is a good support system at home and in the community.

"Before I had the surgery I only told a few people that I was going to have surgery because I didn't want to hear anything negative," she said. "Since I had the surgery and have lost the weight I know of five others at work who have had bariatric surgery at Borgess and two more who I think are going to have it there.

"It has been so successful for me that I'd do it all over again in a heart-beat."