At 24, Danvers resident Erin James’ life after college was on track, except for one thing. Although always confident in herself, she was feeling increasingly uncomfortable not only in clothes, but also in social situations. “I was never depressed, but I just knew my weight was holding me back,” explains James.
“I love the Red Sox, but couldn’t go to any of the games unless I stood the entire time, because I didn’t want to spill over into another person’s seat.” After a lifetime of struggling with her weight, she gained 80 pounds in college. She tried Weight Watchers and lost a lot of weight during her junior year, but ended up gaining it all back, because she went back to her old lifestyle habits.
Finally in October 2008, at her highest weight and wearing a size 24, she knew she had to do something more permanent. With the encouragement of a friend who had recently had gastric band surgery at NSMC, she met with NSMC bariatric surgeon Bernard Benedetto,MD, and decided to have minimally invasive surgery to insert a gastric band (also known as a lap band) around her stomach. “I liked the band better than gastric bypass because it’s adjustable, could change with me and be removed if necessary,” said James.
The lap band is placed around the top of the stomach creating a small pouch that fills with food to about the size of an egg. “With the smaller stomach, patients feel full faster, eat less, and the food empties out of the stomach more slowly, reducing the urge to eat,” explained Dr. Benedetto. “But because the digestion process is not altered, as it is with a gastric bypass, all calories and nutrients are still absorbed, so patients need to be very careful about their diet and exercise.”
Prior to surgery, James started exercising and changed her diet in anticipation of her new lifestyle, and lost 20 pounds. She was so excited and committed to the process that she encouraged her mother to have the lap-band surgery just two months later. “It’s been great to go through this together because we can support and encourage each other.”
All NSMC patients are required to participate in a 12-week post-operative program that combines exercise with lessons on nutrition, stress management and tips for success. “The lap band is only a tool to help me lose weight; now I have to learn how to use it and make a commitment to changing my life,” said James. “It’s hard work and it really takes three months to break old habits and learn new ones I can stick with.”
“The post-operative program is what sets NSMC apart from other hospitals,” said James. “A friend had a gastric bypass at another hospital and because she had no follow-up support, her lifestyle and habits didn’t change and she gained back much of her weight after her initial weight loss. NSMC’s team has helped me solve real life issues, like the temptation of birthday cake and the changing attitudes of some friends. It’s this extra attention that will make me successful.”
Down 105 pounds in eight months, James is well on her way to meeting her goal. She keeps a food journal, exercises at least four times per week and rarely drinks alcohol. “This summer was great,” said James. “I bought clothes at a ‘regular’ store, went to the beach, an amusement park and enjoyed going to five Red Sox games. I did a couple of fundraising races and I met my new boyfriend.” As a teacher in an after-school recreation program in Danvers, James says she can feel the changes she’s making every day. “I can play tag, jump rope and climb with the kids, which I couldn’t do easily before. Now I have the stamina to keep up with them,” she exclaimed. “Finally, my body is matching the strong, confident person I’ve been on the inside.”