Jennifer Dietlein and her mom, Debra Keister - Bariatric Surgery Patients

Jennifer Dietlein & Debra Keister - Midland, MI

"We feel great! We have more energy and fewer restrictions."

Mom and Daughter Weight Loss Success Inspires Others

For many years, Debra Keister suffered with rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid issues and problems with her sciatic nerve. She knew that excess weight was aggravating her conditions but struggled to keep the pounds off. "I had tried everything," she said. "I'd lose 20 or 30 pounds and then gain it all back."

What Debra didn't know was that her daughter, Jennifer Dietlein, had been doing research on bariatric surgery. She had watched her weight steadily climb after her thyroid gland had to be removed 20 years ago. "They warned me that everything would be different, and it was," she said. "My weight kept going up and up." Eventually, Jennifer carried 226 pounds on her 5' 1" frame.

Debra and Jennifer decided to attend a seminar on bariatric surgery together. General and Bariatric Surgeon Jeffrey L. Bonacci, M.D., spoke at the seminar. "He was excellent and very personable. We both wanted him as our surgeon," Debra said. "He and his staff are very friendly and encouraging," Jennifer added.

People who choose to have a sleeve gastrectomy follow a special diet for 10 days prior to surgery. Both women lost weight during that time, and Jennifer said it allowed her to mentally prepare for the lifestyle changes ahead. "It gave me time to get my mindset flipped," she said.

Debra had surgery on September 3, 2014 and spent three days and two nights at MyMichigan Medical Center Midland. "I had no issues whatsoever with the surgery," she said. "I had the procedure early in the morning and was up and walking that night." Things went so smoothly for Debra that she forgot about taking pain medication the following day. "I never had a problem at the hospital or while recovering at home."

Jennifer had her surgery in August 2014. Her experience, however, was not as uneventful as her mom's. "I don't tolerate anesthesia very well and that first night, I was in misery," she said. Fortunately, the care Jennifer received at MyMichigan Medical Center Midland made it bearable. "I had the best nurse. He was excellent! It was a rough first week, but I'd still do it all over again."

In 2015, less than a year later, Debra had shed a total of 70 pounds since her surgery. "The best part is that my doctor took me off of one of my arthritis medicines, lowered the dosage of the thyroid medicine and totally took me off the cholesterol meds. My sciatic nerves are good to go. I feel great!" she said.

Debra believes in closely monitoring her progress. "I plan to maintain this for life," she said. "I weigh myself every single morning. If I'm a couple of ounces up, I make sure I'm not doing something I shouldn't."

Despite the initial discomfort, Jennifer is delighted with the healthy results she has gained from losing weight. "I feel like I got my life back," she said. "I gained a confidence I didn't have before." Like her mother, Jennifer keeps careful watch on her progress. Less than a year following her surgery, she says she was wearing a size 5/6, down from a size 18. "I weigh myself every day," she says. "Seeing the results, and experiencing how good I feel, make me want to stay on track."

Today, four years after their surgeries, Debra and Jennifer are continuing to enjoy the benefits of their improved health. Overall, Debra has lost over 80 pounds while her daughter has lost more than 100. Debra remembers feeling tired all the time with low self-esteem prior to her weight loss. Now, however, she feels much more confident in herself in both how she looks as well as how she feels. Since the surgery, her eating habits have also improved.

Jennifer stressed that health, not appearance, drove her to choose bariatric surgery. "When I told my 13-year-old daughter about my plans, I was honest with her. I told her I needed to do it to be healthier and that being slim was just a bonus." Indeed, Jennifer reports that today she now feels much better physically and emotionally, with better self-esteem. The extra energy she gained has allowed her to do more activities with her family and be more involved with her kids.

Both Debra and Jennifer agree that a good support system makes the journey easier. In addition to each other, they have had friends who have gone through the process and husbands who provide unconditional support. "Bruce compliments me all the time despite the fact that he has to keep buying me new clothes!" Debra says of her loving husband. "I have a wonderful supportive family," Jennifer added. "My husband is very proud of me, but then he has always made me feel beautiful."

Since their successful recoveries and weight losses, Debra and Jennifer have now turned to the role of the supporter. Both believe that the greatest effect that their surgeries have had has been their impact on others. After their surgeries, many people they knew began coming up to them and asking questions about the procedure. Now, they say, at least fifteen people the know have undergone bariatric surgery themselves, and still more are in the process of having it done.

Jennifer emphasized that bariatric surgery requires discipline. "It's not a quick fix," she says. "I still have to work at it and some days are harder than others. It does not overwhelm me though. While some days are better than others, every day is worth it."

Debra has no regrets about her decision to have bariatric surgery and said she would do it over again. "I feel great," she said. "I feel like a new person. I have more energy and fewer restrictions. Before, walking and standing were painful. Not anymore. Now my joints feel good. I praise God for my surgery, my healing and my health."

Today, four years down the road, Debra and Jennifer are glad that their newfound health can be an inspiration for others. Not only has the surgery and weight loss improved their lives, but they can use their increased energy to reach out to friends and relatives who could also benefit from such a change. They encourage people who are contemplating bariatric surgery to make their own decisions and ignore the naysayers. "Go for it. Go to the meetings, gets lots of information, pick a good surgeon and stick with what the doctor says," Debra says. "You'll do great."

MyMichigan Health offers bariatric surgery in both Alma and Midland. Those who would like more information about surgical weight management may register for a free in-person information seminar at www.mymichigan.org/bariatricseminars or watch MyMichigan's online seminar video series at www.mymichigan.org/bariatriconlineseminar.

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