Mike Bowman is less than half the man he used to be.


The 30-year-old West Michigan resident tipped the scales at 505 pounds just a few years ago. Now he weighs in at 228.6 pounds, thanks to bariatric weight-loss surgery that triggered a whole new lifestyle.

Bowman had always been a big guy. Back in sixth grade, the teacher had everyone step on a scale in front of the classroom. At that young age, he already felt embarrassed by his 230 pounds.

By high school his nickname became “Big Mike.”

For Bowman, the tipping point came when he had a new picture taken for his workplace badge. He took one look at the photo and thought, “That’s not me.” Then he walked over to the only scale he could use: the company’s shipping scale.

He broke down when he realized he weighed more than 500 pounds.

“At age 27, I was in very poor health,” Bowman said. He had high blood pressure, blood clots, sleep apnea and ruptured varicose veins. He was a virtual shut-in.

“I wanted to sit down all day … it hurt too much to do anything,” he said.

Everything changed when Bowman had bariatric weight-loss surgery in January 2015 at Spectrum Health Zeeland Community Hospital.

“It’s done wonders for me—it’s given me my life back,” he said. “It’s probably one of the best decisions I ever made.”

An effective tool

Jon Schram, MD, division chief of bariatric surgery at Spectrum Health, has performed more than 6,000 weight-loss surgeries during the past 16 years, with patients ranging from teens to octogenarians.

The most common technique is gastric sleeve surgery. He makes five small, laparoscopic incisions and then removes 80 percent of the stomach. Patients spend a night or two in the hospital and recovery only takes a couple of weeks.

Surgery is a tool that makes it easier for patients to diet effectively, Dr. Schram said.

The procedure shrinks the stomach’s capacity to about two to three ounces—roughly a third of a measuring cup—so patients need to adopt a whole new approach to food. They eat less, they focus on nutrition and they use food supplements to stay healthy.

But they aren’t alone. Patients get ongoing support from a team that includes the surgeon, nurses, dietitians, behaviorists and exercise specialists.

And it works.

While diet-based weight-loss programs have only a 5 percent success rate, 90 percent of bariatric patients can keep off at least half their excess weight.

Better yet, the majority of patients no longer need medications for high blood pressure, diabetes and other weight-related illnesses. And those with sleep apnea can stop using CPAP machines.

Dr. Schram says none of his patients regret having the surgery. But many regret waiting so long.

A changed life

Before Bowman could safely have weight-loss surgery, he needed to lose at least 50 pounds, which meant changing his habits. By focusing on whole foods instead of fast foods he dropped 113 pounds on his own.

That initial success made him wonder if surgery would be the right thing.

Some co-workers even tried to talk him out of surgery, or they accused him of “cheating.” He shrugged it off.

“I didn’t cheat,” Bowman said. “But I did have help. I did what was right for me.”

Today, Bowman has the energy and confidence to live a more complete life. He enjoys walking in the woods and playing outdoor games like golf and disc golf. He works 12-hours shifts in a demanding maintenance job. And he has a girlfriend.

“I knew her for years, but after losing weight I finally felt I was presentable enough to ask her out,” he said.

He is determined to stay healthy.

“I make a conscious effort to watch what I eat,” he said. “It was a lot of work to get here, and I don’t want to slip back.”