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Bailey Bariatrics inspires patient so much she joins the team

Stacie Burns could never find the motivation to take control of her health and her weight. But after a series of events enticed her to sign up for a class at Bailey Bariatrics, she followed through and eventually had bariatric surgery. 

Along the way, she was so impressed by the care she received that she applied for a job and was hired by the same health care providers who helped her lose weight. 

“When I was a patient at Bailey Bariatrics,” said Burns, “I wasn’t just a number, I was someone the staff truly cared about. At the same time I thought, ‘There’s no way that they’re taking care of all these people and making them feel the same way I do.’ But as I interviewed for a job there and got to meet everyone, I came away convinced that Bailey Bariatrics is indeed a very special program.” 

Burns, 49, and her husband live in Collinsville where they raised five children and enjoy visits with their 11 grandchildren. In her words, she was “itty bitty” in high school, weighing just 107 pounds on her 5’ 1” frame. But after her wedding and childbearing years, her weight climbed to nearly 240 pounds. 

“I became someone who didn’t like to look at mirrors,” said Burns. “I didn’t want to be photographed. If there was a group photo, I always tried to stand in the back. But since I’m short, they wanted me in front, so I would volunteer to hold a sign or something in front of me. I was just embarrassed to be so heavy.” 

New mindset 

Her mindset started to change one summer day when she went to a Wings & Wheels Fly-In & Car Show. 

“My husband works for American Airlines and they had a plane there. If you made a donation to the Make-a-Wish Foundation, you could go up in a plane ride,” Burns recalled.  

“I sat down and tried to buckle the seat belt, but I didn’t fit. I was sucking in my gut and trying everything I could to avoid the humiliation of getting off the plane in shame. I was finally able to snap the buckle closed and take the flight, but the whole time I kept thinking, ‘Something has to change.’” 

Dampening her motivation had been her belief that there were no local programs to help her lose weight. Soon after her trouble with the seat belt, she saw a highway billboard about bariatric surgery and the green and white logo for The Center for Bariatrics at Bailey Medical Center

“As soon as I could, I called and registered for the upcoming bariatrics seminar. I ended up having my gastric sleeve surgery six months later,” said Burns. 

Gastric sleeve surgery

Gastric sleeve surgery involves the removal of a large portion of a patient’s stomach. It keeps the stomach at the same length but with a much slimmer width, like a shirt sleeve. No changes are made to the patient’s intestines. 

Surgery at Bailey Bariatrics is performed with minimally invasive techniques. That means small instruments are inserted through small incisions with a camera for visualization. This leads to less pain, shorter recovery and better outcomes for the patients. 

With a sleeve gastrectomy, approximately 80% of the volume of the stomach is removed. After surgery, patients eat much smaller meals and tend to have fewer cravings and hunger than they did prior to surgery. This is because most of our 'hunger hormone' is created in the portion of the stomach that was removed. Removal of that part of the stomach results in much less 'hunger hormone' produced. 

After the surgery takes place, the continued care and rehabilitation activities by the patient are perhaps even more important than the surgery itself. Speaking from experience in her role as a post-operative navigator, Burns instills in her patients the concept that their surgery is just the beginning of a new life. 

“Everything you have done up to this point was just warming up for this moment,” she tells bariatric patients after their surgery. “You still have to come in for all your follow-up care. You will follow your diet and exercise plans. We will put you on a Tanita scale to help keep track of your weight, body fat percentage, muscle mass, visceral fat and other metrics.” 

Patients will also undergo regular lab work to monitor vital health numbers. “When I had my labs drawn, they detected a thyroid issue I didn’t know I had. I went in and had a biopsy of my thyroid, and now we are just monitoring it every year to keep it under control.” 

Working with bariatric patients 

As one of two post-op navigators, each with 3,000 patients, Burns follows through with the patients after surgery to get appointments scheduled, tell them about upcoming classes and events and encourage them with their rehab exercise and dietary programs. 

But on top of the day-to-day activities, she also provides guidance that the patients respect. They know she took the same weight loss journey they are taking now. 

“Our dietitians, staff and providers all tell the patients that we know that they will struggle. Statistically, 100% of the bariatric patients will gain some weight back. But it’s okay when you gain weight. Just keep talking to your providers, follow your diet, keep up your exercise and keep coming in for your follow-up care because that’s all very important.” 

Most importantly, Burns explained, stop weighing yourself every day. “It's not about the numbers on the scale, because those are going to fluctuate. They will go up and down.” 

What they should count every day are those ‘non-scale victories’ that show that their lives are changing, such as: 

  • Wrapping themselves in a regular-size towel after showering 
  • Appreciating how good they look in the mirror 
  • Easily getting in and out of a car or airplane seat 
  • Bending over and painting their own toe nails 
  • Shopping for new clothes
  • Spending the whole day shopping and still having energy to play with the grandchildren 
  • Getting ‘redemption’ by finally doing something they couldn’t do when they were larger 

“Tell us about those non-scale victories. We will answer with praise for the hard work you are doing, which will naturally encourage you to keep doing better,” said Burns. “But also call us when you're having those struggles. We're not here just to hear about the good news. We're here to help you through the bad times too.” 

Brighter future 

Now that Burns is three years post-surgery and down to 131 pounds, she no longer has sleep apnea and can sleep normally without a CPAP machine. Her husband was a great support to Burns during her weight loss journey and together they are looking forward to taking another cruise. 

“Unlike the cruise we took before my surgery, when I wore nothing but Capris the entire time, last year we took a cruise when I wore shorts, dresses and bathing suits. It was so nice to lay on the beach, lounge by the pool and just enjoy the success of my hard work. I can’t wait to cruise again!” 

She’s also looks forward to getting down on the floor and playing with their grandchildren. With her better health and outlook on the future, she is putting her newfound energy to work for her family and her career. 

“I am ready to get up, try new things and totally embrace whatever life brings.”