Wendy Gibson is a driven woman, focused on reaching a single goal: her good health.
Since November 2017, with guidance and support from UPMC's Comprehensive Weight Loss Program, she's changed her lifestyle and dropped nearly 100 pounds. That’s on top of the 100 pounds she already lost with the help of a nutritionist.
To date, the 55-year-old Duncansville, Pa., resident — who now takes care of her father full-time — has lost almost 200 pounds.
“For me, losing weight has been about more than just feeling and looking better, although that’s important,” says Wendy. “I knew I had to change my life drastically to regain my health.”
Wendy’s battle with the scales started during her second pregnancy.
“I gained a ton of weight, which caused the arches in my feet to collapse,” she says. “Growing up, I never worried about my weight. I was always very active. But during my pregnancy, my feet hurt so much I couldn’t exercise, and I kept putting on weight.”
That weight gain eventually led to a hernia, which doctors repaired laparoscopically.
“The combination of my weight and the pregnancy weakened my stomach muscles, though, so the hernia came back,” Wendy says.
The second time, doctors used open surgery to repair it.
But two years ago — at 387 pounds — Wendy had a bowel blockage due to the hernia. To address this life-threatening problem, she had emergency surgery.
Her surgeon made an opening to connect the end loop of the small intestine to the abdominal wall (a reversible ileostomy). The opening helps pass intestinal waste out of the body into a temporary pouch.
Surgeons can't always reverse an ileostomy. So, Wendy's doctors told her that she first had to lose a large amount of weight to even qualify for the surgery.
Under the care of a nutritionist referred by her family doctor, Wendy embarked on a strict 1,200-calorie-a-day diet and lost 80 pounds.
“But after dropping about eight pounds a month for nearly a year, I plateaued. The scale wouldn’t budge,” she says.
“There are more weight loss challenges when you have an ileostomy,” explains Wendy. “Healthy, high-fiber foods — like some fruits and vegetables — are very hard for me to digest. And food goes through my system so fast that I feel hungry all the time.”
Wendy turned to UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital for possible bariatric surgery.
“After looking at scans of my other surgeries, the doctor felt there would be too much risk,” she says.
Instead, Wendy began working with medical weight loss specialist Vicki March, MD, director of the UPMC Comprehensive Weight Loss Program.
Dr. March suggested that Wendy instead follow a low-fat diet built around complex carbohydrates and some protein. She takes no weight loss medicines.
“It’s working!” says Wendy. “It’s a well-balanced diet that keeps me feeling satisfied, even with my ileostomy.
Wendy admits that, at first, it was hard. She credits Marianne Talluto, PA-C, a physician assistant in Dr. March’s practice, for keeping her on track.
“She’s been my mentor, my guardian angel,” says Wendy. “She tells it the way it is, and that’s what I need to hear.”
Marianne also worked with Wendy to keep a food journal and count fats and calories.
“Our goal has been to help Wendy find a diet plan and lifestyle that will work for her long-term,” says Marianne.
“Real change comes from diet, exercise, and knowledge — such as learning where calories are hidden and healthy plate eating.”
As part of her new diet, Wendy no longer eats sugars or breads.
“To be honest, I don’t even crave them,” she says. “I’ll bake for my dad, and it doesn't tempt me at all. I know in my heart I need to do this.”
Wendy’s goal is to lose 60 more pounds so she can have abdominal surgery in the coming year. The surgery will not only reverse her ileostomy. It will also correct three new hernias that have formed behind it.
Doctors have also cleared her for plastic surgery to remove excess skin due to her weight loss.
“My goal is to reach 140 — something I haven’t seen since high school!” she says.
And while she still has some foot pain, losing weight has transformed her life.
“I feel so much better, mentally and physically,” says Wendy. “I look in the mirror and see only half of me there now. It’s just an amazing feeling.”
This patient's treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.