In May 2017, Debi Crawford-Poyner found herself in a tough spot.

Overweight and struggling to manage her Type 2 diabetes, she discovered she had stage one diabetic retinopathy, an eye disease that can cause blindness.

“That was like a shock, a wake-up call,” said Crawford-Poyner, a lifelong swim instructor who recently retired from a career of teaching preschool and special ed.

To stop the retinopathy’s progression, and potentially even reverse it, she would need to lose a substantial amount of weight—fast.

Dieting didn’t do the trick, so she cast about for “something drastic,” she said.

Perhaps bariatric surgery was the answer.

Good news, bad news

Crawford-Poyner had heard about Jon Schram, MD, a bariatric surgeon with Spectrum Health Medical Group. She called his office to explain her situation.

She got good news and bad news.

The bad? She didn’t qualify for bariatric surgery. Her body mass index wasn’t high enough. Crawford-Poyner had no desire to gain weight to become a surgery candidate.

The good? Her BMI hit the sweet spot for the ReShape program, a nonsurgical weight loss procedure recently introduced at Spectrum Health Zeeland Community Hospital, a half-hour’s drive from Crawford-Poyner’s home in Kentwood, Michigan.

Knowing she had no time to waste—she faced a real threat of vision loss—she visited Dr. Schram to learn more about the procedure. She quickly signed on as a ReShape patient.

“I was really worried, because my grandmother had an eye disease and she went blind,” Crawford-Poyner said. “I knew I didn’t want to be like my grandmother.”

That August, she had the ReShape procedure. She then began a yearlong program of closely monitored dietary and lifestyle changes.

The results are everything she had hoped for:

  • She lost 35 pounds and has kept most of it off.
  • Her BMI is in the normal range.
  • Controlling her diabetes takes far less insulin than it used to.
  • Best of all, she has reversed the symptoms of the eye disease.

“My eyes today show absolutely no signs of diabetic retinopathy,” she said.

Getting her weight down and her blood sugar under control were critical, Crawford-Poyner said, crediting the ReShape program with her success.

Double-balloon system

The ReShape technique is a 20-minute endoscopic procedure. Feeding the scope into the patient’s mouth and down through the esophagus, the doctor inserts a pair of empty balloons into the stomach and fills them with saline.

The balloons stay in place for six months, giving ReShape patients a feeling of perpetual fullness that helps them reduce their food intake.

During these six months, Crawford-Poyner met with Dr. Schram’s team for regular monitoring and coaching. This one-on-one support program continues for six months after the balloons are removed.

“We combine the placement of the balloons with 12 months of diet coaching, behavioral visits, dietitian visits and exercise physiology,” Dr. Schram said.

“We feel like if we can spend a year with that patient and really get them focusing on different things—eating properly, exercising, some behavioral changes—that maybe we can have a lifelong impact on their weight. That’s our goal.”

Patients typically lose 25 to 40 pounds with the ReShape program, Dr. Schram said, calling it ideal for people with a BMI in the 30 to 35 range who don’t qualify for bariatric surgery, but who still want a tool to help them lose weight.

Lifestyle change

With the gastric balloons in place, Crawford-Poyner focused her diet on vegetables, fruits and protein. To avoid feelings of nausea, she learned to strictly limit her portions. And she picked up new eating habits.

“I learned to eat slowly, to put my fork down between bites, to drink later on, after the meal, and to not finish what was on my plate,” she said. As the daughter of parents raised during the Depression, she found it difficult to leave food on her plate.

But sleeping became the hardest part of living with the balloons. To prevent acid reflux, she had to sleep upright in bed, propped up with pillows.

Despite these challenges, Crawford-Poyner has no regrets about her ReShape decision. She feels better today than she has in years.

“Once I lost the weight I felt so wonderful,” she said. “I’m not perfectly shaped, but I feel very good in a bathing suit now.”

That’s important to her, since she plans to keep teaching water safety classes well into retirement.

As she starts this new phase of life, Crawford-Poyner is confident her healthy habits will stick.

“It’s a change in lifestyle, and you really have to increase your willpower,” she said. “But I feel so much better. So much better.”