Shelly's story: Gastric sleeve surgery

‘Within just two years, my weight doubled’

Working long hours supporting the mentally ill within a secure unit was a very demanding job. Shelly would often work shifts of 16-hour-days, five days per week. Despite loving her job, Shelly’s weight doubled as a result of her erratic eating pattern. Not eating at set times meant that her metabolism went into overdrive, storing food as a result of it being so out-of-kilter. Within just two years, Shelly went from being 10 stone to 22 stone.

Shelly's life before weight loss surgery

Life wasn’t always like this for Shelly. Born into a healthy family, Shelly knew more than most about a balanced diet as her mother worked as a dietitian. She subsequently adopted very disciplined eating habits, having cereal and skimmed milk for breakfast, a sandwich, salad and fruit for lunch and an evening meal that consisted of chicken and vegetables. Fizzy drinks and chocolate didn’t even have a place on her table.

Shelly was active all the way up until early adulthood, with her first job working at a horse stables, riding and training horses. Her family also bred horses, so when Shelly returned from her day job, she would then tend to her own horses. It was an idyllic life.

It wasn’t until she reached her early thirties that her life started to change. Shelly was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), a common female endocrine disorder that can lead to infertility. Having always wanted children, Shelly was shocked to learn that she may not be able to conceive.  Shelly recognised that she was beginning to gain weight and her GP said that it could be a feature of PCOS, as calories are often stored as fat.

On the doctor’s advice, Shelly tried to eat less, but despite cutting back on carbs, she felt perpetually hungry. She returned to her normal eating pattern again and due to the long shift-work that she did, she began to eat larger quantities of food, particularly before bedtime.

Health problems

At 34, Shelly was shocked to discover that her weight had doubled. At 22 stone and 5ft 3 inches in height, Shelly couldn’t walk without a stick and the excess weight that she was carrying caused her spinal problems and knee pain. Having been diagnosed with very mild asthma at 15, Shelly’s extra weight meant that she was wheezing heavily even after climbing a few stairs.

Desperate, Shelly visited her GP and was sent to a local dietitian for dietary help and support. Shelly found the diets fairly easy to maintain as eating healthily had never been a problem for her, but she became severely depressed after a year and a half resulted in no weight loss. Shelly’s problems worsened, with her having to give up the job she loved and resort to a cocktail of medications to help decrease her blood pressure and relieve her symptoms of incontinence. Her gym even presented her with a letter saying that she was considered high-risk and would need a doctor’s letter before she returned there.

Stripped of all confidence, Shelly turned down her regular outings with friends through fear that they would chastise her. It wasn’t long before her friends didn’t include her in activities. Shelly spiralled into a deeper depression and even contemplated suicide after spending her second New Year’s Eve alone in her house. It was at this point her dietitian recommended that she have weight loss surgery.

Shelly comments: “I couldn’t understand why I got fat. I ate all the right things and always believed that obesity was the result of eating junk food. I’ve never had a burger in my life and I hate chocolate. I felt that it was really unfair that it was happening to me and I felt powerless to stop it. Having tried dieting for many years, I even resorted to slimming pills that I bought through a Chinese chemist and from the internet, but nothing worked. I felt weight loss surgery really was my only option.”

Thinking it to be the cheat’s way out, Shelly was unconvinced by surgery. Having not even considered it as an option before and having heard negative stories about it, Shelly was reticent. Her mother, GP and dietitian all convinced her that it was the right decision and she was encouraged to attend a local weight loss surgery evening at Spire Manchester Hospital.

Attending weight loss surgery support evening

After attending the talk, Shelly’s eyes were opened to surgery and she began to see it as the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’. Within two weeks, she had her first consultation with senior bariatric nurse, Kath Rothwell. It was during this consultation that she learned of the different procedures and was advised that the ‘gastric sleeve’ would be a good route to take, given that her problem was one of volume, not of poor diet. She was also advised that it was purely a tool to help weight loss and that she would still need to work hard to lose the weight post-operatively. With no income as a result of giving up work on medical grounds, Shelly applied for NHS funding. She was relieved and happy to hear that within two weeks of her application, she was granted funding.

Having weight loss surgery

Shelly underwent the procedure under Mr Bart Decadt, Consultant General Surgeon at Spire Manchester Hospital. Having been involved in the creation of a film about weight loss surgery, Shelly was very knowledgeable about what surgery would entail and didn’t feel at all nervous before the operation. She was even laughing and joking with the nurses minutes before she had the anaesthetic.
Her surgery was performed by key-hole surgery which meant that Shelly was encouraged to walk as a way of helping her post-operative recovery. As soon as she was back on the ward, Shelly started to walk, first to the toilet, and then up and down the corridors. Feeling relatively little discomfort, Shelly was discharged the next day.

The only pain that Shelly felt was heart burn after drinking and eating and in the first few days, the only foods that she could eat were soup and liquid-based foods. Her partner, Nick, was a great support to her, despite his initial misgivings of her having surgery. Within a month, Shelley had lost over a stone and a half. She no longer needed to walk with the aid of a stick and had so much energy again that  she felt as a good as new. She even started jogging, but realised her error as she felt it pulling on her abdomen.

Four months after surgery, Shelly is now 17 stone and is slowing regaining her confidence. She is very positive and believes that the surgery was the best thing that she has done.

She explains: “Being so overweight and not knowing why was really tough. Now, I feel that I have regained a sense of control over my life again. I have renewed purpose and can’t wait to go back to work. I am also looking forward to going out with my friends again and I think Nick is relieved that he no longer needs to help me into the bath.

I feel so much more positive about everything”