Kendra Bossardet hadn’t always been overweight.

She started gaining after she had her son and daughter, now ages 31 and 27.

Over the years, it added up.

Eventually, the 5-foot-4 Michigan mom reached 238 pounds—and it soon affected her health. She developed high blood pressure and showed signs of diabetes. Her cholesterol levels crept upward.

About four years ago, after living with those conditions for nearly a decade, Bossardet, 53, decided it had come time for a change.

That’s when she looked into bariatric surgery.

Like all patients considering bariatric surgery, Bossardet had to undergo a number of meetings beforehand with dietary staff and psychologists to ensure she knew what to expect.

A healthier life

Bariatric surgery is a routine surgery—one of the most common in America, said Jon Schram, MD, division chief and medical director for bariatric surgery for Spectrum Health.

About 90% of the people who opt for it will keep at least half the excess weight off for good.

In March 2017, Dr. Schram performed a procedure that removed 80% of Bossardet’s stomach. This left a smaller stomach the size of a small banana, reducing the amount of food she could consume.

The procedure also reduces production of the appetite-stimulating hormone Ghrelin, leaving her less hungry than before.

It took about 45 minutes.

In the months following, she lost about 100 pounds. She initially dipped to 140 pounds, but then felt more comfortable at 150 pounds.

But it’s not just about weight loss.

Bossardet’s condition soon improved to where she could stop taking blood pressure medication. She no longer showed signs of diabetes. Her high cholesterol fell, too.

“We don’t do the surgery for just weight loss, but we do it because we’re trying to improve a patient’s health,” Dr. Schram said. “The surgery reverses the effects of diabetes, hypertension and sleep apnea.”

‘Don’t be afraid’

Patients are seen by health teams 10 days after surgery, then at six weeks, four months, eight months and once a year. That follow-up care is important.

“The most important thing for patients to understand is we are building a tool in their body for them to diet more effectively,” Dr. Schram said. “Their overall long-term success depends on how well they use the tool, more than how well I built the tool.”

Protein is the quintessential diet food for the bariatric patient, Dr. Schram said. He recommends 60 to 100 grams of protein a day.

Alcohol, fast food and sweets should be strictly moderated.

The surgery is generally for people who are 100 pounds overweight and who have a body mass index of 40 or greater, Dr. Schram said. It’s also helpful for those with a body mass index of 35 to 40 who have diabetes, hypertension or sleep apnea.

Today, Bossardet continues on her healthier path forward.

She follows a healthy diet. She eats smaller amounts of food more frequently. She drinks a protein shake every morning. She has reduced intake of sweets and eliminated pop and coffee from her diet.

She drinks copious amounts of water.

As a cook at Spectrum Health Zeeland Community Hospital, she gets plenty of exercise at work. She walks her dogs regularly.

She notices she doesn’t get short of breath on her walks.

She said her body now seems to be helping her stay on track.

She strongly recommends bariatric surgery for those who need it.

“Don’t be afraid to do it,” she said. “If you’ve tried everything else and nothing seems to work, it will be a blessing in your life.”