Life after weight loss surgery: Julie's story
Despite a genetic predisposition to type 2 diabetes, Julie Wickwire, 56, had long avoided developing the disease by following a healthy diet and remaining active — even if her weight did fluctuate from time to time.
For nearly 30 years, Wickwire had stayed true to a low-carb diet with high protein and fats — no processed foods or sugar — and lots of fresh vegetables. Wickwire also kept on her toes as a massage therapist, helping others to improve their well-being.
But after a car accident in 2009, she suddenly found herself in the role of patient rather than caregiver.
“My life changed on a dime, in a day,” Wickwire says. “All of a sudden I was an injured patient on disability.”
The accident damaged her spine, requiring double spinal fusion surgery and limiting her mobility.
Unable to work or move around much, and taking steroids to help reduce inflammation, Wickwire began to gain weight. Soon enough, she had indeed developed diabetes.
A life-saving choice
By June 2013, Wickwire's diabetes was worsening, even though she was still following a healthy, low-sugar diet. Her increased weight was putting more strain on her back, and she was in chronic pain.
Wickwire felt isolated from her social circle because she couldn’t work or leave the house much.
“I was limited not just physically, but also emotionally,” she says.
Wickwire knew that she had to take action. Aware of the correlation between obesity and diabetes, she researched bariatric (weight loss) surgery and attended a seminar about the procedure.
After the seminar, Wickwire felt so inspired by the statistics she'd heard that she decided on the spot to schedule the surgery.
“I decided in a heartbeat to do it,” she says. “I could've done it right then and there, I was that ready. Besides weight loss, the number-one goal for me was the chance to reverse my diabetes.”
What is bariatric surgery?
Bariatric surgery is the name given to several surgical techniques that reduce the size of the stomach and/or allow food to bypass part of the small intestine. The surgery typically results in significant weight loss — and often helps resolve other serious weight-related conditions, such as Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
MultiCare performs two different bariatric surgeries: gastric bypass surgery and sleeve gastrectomy. In each case, a smaller stomach pouch is created using a stapling device.
With gastric bypass surgery, a section of small intestine is then attached directly to the pouch. This allows food to bypass a portion of the small intestine, further limiting the body's ability to absorb calories.
Both of these procedures can be performed using laparoscopic (minimally invasive) surgery, which involves small incisions in the abdomen. That usually means a shorter hospital stay, faster recovery, smaller scars and less pain than open surgical procedures.
Turning the corner
After undergoing sleeve gastrectomy in 2013, Wickwire says she had little pain and was able to stop taking all of her diabetes medications after only four days. Today, she has lost a total of 135 pounds and her diabetes has resolved.
As a result of her weight loss, Wickwire's back feels better and she is able to get out of the house more and more.
“I've been able to do more in the past year than I have in a long time,” she says.
Wickwire's mental outlook has also greatly improved.
“I'm in a much better place now emotionally, physically and spiritually," she says. “The bariatric surgery has been a huge turning point in how I feel about myself and how I want to interact with people. I want to be of service to others, to family and community.”
Wickwire recently ran into an old friend from high school.
“My friend told me, ‘Julie, you look fabulous,’” she recounts. “‘But it's not the weight you've lost, it's the light in your eyes. I haven't seen them shine like that in a long time.’
“That was the greatest compliment, because it meant I was broadcasting how I felt inside. The surgery will change people — not just on the outside, but on the inside.”