Heather Turner

Heather Turner was stuck in a rut and she couldn’t get out.

After giving birth to three children, undergoing knee surgery to repair a torn ACL, the stress of having a husband serving in Iraq and poor diet choices combined with lack of exercise, the Leavenworth woman was overweight and frustrated.

At 5 feet 7 inches, Turner weighed 260 pounds and was chronically exhausted. As she toted around the unwanted extra weight, life seemed like a burden, too.

Something had to change for Turner.

“I lost a bit of weight off and on, but I was still far past my ideal body weight,” says Turner. “Everything I did was difficult because of the weight situation. I was miserable.” 

In 2011 Turner witnessed the transformation of a work colleague following bariatric surgery for a weight problem.  Turner began investigating the possibility of the operation and consulted with Nicole Fearing, MD, at Menorah Medical Center.

Dr. Fearing specializes in advanced laparoscopic surgery and endoscopy and has a special interest in bariatric surgery.

In September 2012 Turner was approved for gastric sleeve surgery, which removes a large portion of a patient’s stomach and converts it into a tube. She was scheduled for the operation in November 2012.

“Bariatric surgery is not cosmetic, which is how many patients and insurance companies initially saw it years ago,” says Dr. Fearing. “For people like Heather, who have tried to lose weight with little or no success and are essentially living a compromised life due to various health problems associated with excess weight, bariatric surgery is the solution.”

According to Dr. Fearing, sleep apnea, diabetes, heart disease and depression can manifest themselves in individuals who struggle with weight gain.

“Being overweight leads to so many health issues,” says Dr. Fearing.

The gastric sleeve procedure Dr. Fearing performed on Turner removed nearly 85 percent of her stomach, which significantly reduced her capability of food intake.

“The normal stomach can hold about 1.5 liters of fluid, and we downsize it to a four- to six-ounce capacity,” says Dr. Fearing. “A person undergoing bariatric surgery has the potential to lose 50 to 85 percent of their excess body weight.”

Turner, a library technician at Fort Leavenworth, has lost more than 80 pounds since her surgery last November and regained a positive and healthy outlook on life. She has adopted a consistent exercise regimen and healthy diet: breakfast consists of scrambled eggs or oatmeal followed by a midmorning protein bar, a salad for lunch and grilled chicken or fish for dinner.

But Dr. Fearing cautions patients like Turner that bariatric surgery is just part of a solution to successful and sustained weight loss.

“I tell my patients they can’t drink their calories or eat lots of sugars and that sensible diet choices and exercise are integral,” says Dr. Fearing. “Once someone has lost the initial 30 pounds it’s so much easier to exercise. Some patients I work with are so overweight that after surgery they can lose the weight equivalent of a whole person. Imagine not carrying that around anymore and you see how impactful bariatric surgery can be.”

Dr. Fearing says she dealt with body image issues growing up—which gives her empathy for the overweight patients she sees. “We live in a society where body image is very important. It is so rewarding to help people like Heather make a change, feel better and approach life in a different, healthier way.”

Turner’s family has given her the affectionate nickname of Skinny Minnie. Her husband, Michael, now a reservist serving in Afghanistan, is amazed at the energy and positivity in her life.  Turner’s colleagues see her new lease on life.

“Just simple things like not wanting to walk anywhere or even move,” says Turner. “I can’t stop moving now—and am much happier.”

Learn more about weight-loss surgery