Mike Ply could tell his weight had become a problem.

When he bent over to tie his shoe, scrunching up his lungs, he became short of breath.

When wakeboarding, one of his favorite hobbies, his life jacket fit so tight around his gut it detracted from the experience.

And last year, shortly after getting engaged, Ply, 36, saw himself in engagement photos and didn’t like the way he looked. He decided he’d had enough.

“I will tell you, it creeps up on you,” said Ply, who never had weight issues until adulthood.

Ply also hadn’t had a physical in “many years,” he said. Every time he’d call a doctor’s office, they could schedule him in two months down the road, maybe four. He’d hang up out of frustration and not call back.

But as part of his job at Spectrum Health Medical Group, Ply had been introduced to STR!VE, a new Spectrum Health program offering online booking and next-day appointments.

Fast forward less than a year.

Ply has lost nearly 90 pounds.

For the first time in a long time, he’s excited about summer.

‘Complete lifestyle change’

In September 2017, Ply became one of the first enrollees in STR!VE.

For a $159 annual membership, STR!VE offers a much more personalized health care approach. Next-day appointments, more time with the doctor on each visit, genetic testing and a macro view of health, from diet and fitness to long-term preventive measures.

Ply liked the idea of being one of the first patients in the STR!VE program.

“I’ve always been an early adopter,” Ply said. “I was probably the first to eliminate the checkbook. I don’t even own a checkbook.”

In his first appointment with David Rosner, DO, who specializes in lifestyle medicine, Dr. Rosner suggested Ply undergo blood work. They scheduled labs for the next day and Ply learned he had elevated liver enzymes.

For young non-drinkers, elevated liver enzymes are usually a sign of obesity. The problem can turn into cirrhosis if not properly treated, Dr. Rosner said.

“I think with him, it really scared him that liver enzymes were that high,” Dr. Rosner said. “It’s very easy to tell someone they’re overweight according to the BMI scale, but when they have some other problems with it, that’s when you see people really commit to it.

“If someone has high blood pressure and doesn’t have problems, it’s easier to convince them to fix it with medication than a lifestyle change. … But patients that are successful (in curing long-term health issues) make it a priority. It’s a complete lifestyle change.”

After talking with Dr. Rosner, Ply began going to the gym “religiously.” He did one hour on the elliptical machine every day, a piece of equipment that simulates stair climbing, walking and running.

He also changed to a low-calorie diet—“I ate a lot of Subway, honestly,” he admits—and switched to fruits and vegetables as snacks.

“Fruit became my dessert,” he said.

In his late 20s and early 30s, Ply had crept from 175 pounds to 250 pounds. But by April he’d shed 90 pounds, down to 160. He’s now trying to maintain a weight in the mid-160s.

Proactive care

Dr. Rosner, a family practitioner by trade, began with STR!VE when it opened last July. Spectrum Health Medical Group called him about the position because it seemed he’d be a good fit.

“I try to do lifestyle medicine: more alternative, nutritionally minded health care,” he said. “They kind of knew that from the start with me. … In my opinion, lifestyle management is the best way to approach things. You can really keep patients healthy, give them a better path long-term.

“If you don’t have health, you don’t have much anyway,” he said.

Dr. Rosner said STR!VE is for people who may or may not have issues they want to work on immediately, but more importantly, it’s for those who want to commit to their health long-term.

“I feel like people think of hospitals as a place you go when you’re sick,” he said. “I want people to come to get healthy and stay healthy.”

Ply praised the program’s sharp focus on patient experience. This became evidence at all stages—when undergoing blood work, the ease of booking appointments, and even in little things like the comfiness and non-traditional design of the doctor’s office chairs.

Ply said little perks, including the lunchtime lectures on topics such as mindfulness and exercise, aided his transformation.

“One of the coolest aspects of STR!VE was its easiness,” he said. “I remember one month or two months after my first blood work, I was supposed to schedule another one, and I was like, ‘Oh dang, I forgot to schedule something.’

“I remember very clearly I was eating a sandwich on my couch for dinner. I took out my phone and scheduled for the next day at 9 a.m.

“It’s one of the most convenient things. They did a fantastic job.”

In addition to the physical issues, being overweight came with mental side effects, too.

“I usually fly Southwest, and they don’t have assigned seating,” Ply said. “I usually pick a window seat, and when everyone is walking down the aisle, you can see them looking over and thinking, ‘I don’t want to sit next to the large guy.’ It doesn’t make you feel good.”

Given his weight loss, he said he no longer worries about those biases and pressures.

Meanwhile, he has nieces and nephews he’s looking forward to spending time with this summer, for a season packed with activities.

“Going to the beach, going to the water park with my many nieces and nephews—those are things I wouldn’t have done before because I wouldn’t feel comfortable,” he said. “Even going on roller coasters because of concerns of fit, like with the life jacket. Now I don’t have to worry about that.”