Losing Weight

Losing Weight, Gaining Confidence

By Jacob Luecke

Hosting an outdoor wedding in early November is risky business, but it certainly worked out for Jeff and Ashton Blauvelt. The couple exchanged vows on November 7, 2015, beside a rocky, wooded hillside covered with freshly fallen leaves and under a setting sun. The scene was breathtaking.

But during the celebration, the groom’s friends were apparently taken aback by something else they saw—Jeff’s 55-year-old mom.

The men, half her age, flattered Christi Blauvelt that evening, calling her “beautiful” and “striking.” One greeted her with “Hey, hottie!”

While the flirty compliments were all in good fun, Christi says, “Of course it made me feel incredible. How else could it make you feel?”

The wedding served as the public debut for Christi’s nearly 70-pound weight loss, helped by a procedure offered at Boone Hospital Weight Loss Surgery and the physicians at Columbia Bariatric Associates.

During the summer of 2014, Christi came to Boone Hospital Center where surgeon James Pitt, DO, performed a sleeve gastrectomy procedure. The minimally invasive surgery drastically reduces a person’s stomach size. A trained surgeon divides the patient’s stomach with staples, then removes approximately 80 percent of the stomach. The procedure helps patients lose weight by allowing them to eat less food and still feel full.

The sleeve gastrectomy procedure complements the gastric band and gastric bypass weight loss surgery options also available at Boone Hospital. Dr. Pitt says that no matter which option patients choose, surgery is just one of many important steps on the path toward successful weight loss.

“Regardless of the operation done, it’s a tool to help the patient make and maintain the lifestyle changes necessary for being healthy,” he says.

Christi agrees. 

“The surgery wasn’t a magic trick,” she says. “This is a change in life. I have to make a daily effort to eat and exercise the way I am supposed to.”

Christi used the surgery as a tool to battle weight she gained during a period of depression following her divorce. Her weight problems compounded as she faced early menopause. Her increasing weight dragged her down during those difficult years. 

“When I started gaining weight, my confidence level plummeted even more, and I just started staying home and eating more,” she says. “It was a vicious circle.”

Over time, the weight became a detriment to Christi’s health. She had to take medication for high blood pressure and cholesterol. Walking long distances became painful for her knees and feet.

“Just simple things like taking my grandkids for a walk was more difficult,” she says. “My confidence level was very low, and I didn’t want to go out with friends.”

Weight loss surgery wasn’t her first attempt to shed the pounds.

“It would be easier to name what I didn’t try,” she says. “I tried almost every ‘get thin quick’ trick in the book.”

After these many attempts, Christi’s primary care doctor suggested she consider weight loss surgery. She eventually chose Boone Hospital because it was the closest hospital to her Linn home where weight loss surgery was covered by her insurance. However, she quickly became a fan of the gentle care at Boone Hospital and the professional guidance provided by her clinicians.

“I love them!  Dr. Pitt and registered nurse Tina Bartels treat you like real people,” she says. “I have never felt like they were judging me but were there to actually help me. Don’t get me wrong, they will tell you like it is. If you need a good slap up the back of the head, they are there to do it — figuratively speaking of course!” 

In planning for her procedure, Christi chose sleeve gastrectomy over the popular gastric banding procedures. Gastric banding requires periodic trips back to the physician’s office to have the band adjusted for optimal weight loss. Living an hour away, Christi didn’t want to make those trips, which weren’t necessary with sleeve gastrectomy. She also liked how sleeve gastrectomy is permanent compared to the band options, which are reversible.

“To be totally honest, I was afraid that with the band I would be more likely to regress and go back to my old ways,” she says. “I decided that the sleeve was a better option for me. It is definitely a personal preference.”

Christi had her surgery on July 16, 2014, and the procedure was successful. She says she underestimated the difficulty of the recovery period, however, she was quickly back to full speed.

“I’m not going to lie; it was a painful recovery, but it was short-lived,” she says. “I had the surgery on a Wednesday and was doing work from home on my computer on the following Monday. I was back in the office the following Tuesday. I travel quite a bit with my work. I wasn’t able to do that for a couple of weeks.”

During this time, Christi got accustomed to her down-sized stomach. In the early days after surgery, she could only eat a tablespoon of food before feeling full. As a result, she quickly lost 30 pounds.

Five months later, she’s lost 70 pounds. Over that time, her stomach adjusted, allowing her to eat right-sized portions of food. She’s been able to maintain her 70-pound weight loss since and she is working to lose about 20 more pounds to reach her personal goal.

Along the way, she has benefited from Boone Hospital’s weight loss surgery support group.

“They are the best thing in the world for me,” Christi says. “Everyone there has been or is going through the same thing. We all understand each other and keep each other on track. There’s no judging; just a great group of support.” 

As Christi dropped the pounds, she also dropped all her blood pressure and cholesterol medications — those problems are gone. Her knees and feet feel better, too.

“We always talk about weight loss, in pounds or percent of excess weight lost,” says Dr. Pitt. “But it’s the control, resolution or prevention of the many comorbid conditions that occur with obesity that make people healthier. Those things are just much harder to objectively measure.”

From Christi’s perspective, the only downside to losing weight has been gaining excess skin on her arms, neck and midsection.  

“Exercise helps, but it doesn’t eliminate it so be prepared for this,” she advises others considering weight loss surgery. “It definitely doesn’t outweigh the benefits, and I would do it all over again, but it’s something that I think should be mentioned.”

Despite the extra skin, Christi’s life is better today. She can go on longer walks with her grandchildren. When she’s out shopping with her friends, she doesn’t suffer from achy feet and knees that relegate her to sitting on a bench alone while everyone else has fun.

And a few flirty compliments at her son’s wedding didn’t hurt, either.

“My confidence level is so much higher it is unbelievable,” she says.