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Like many women, Natalie Priebe of Waseca found herself gaining weight after her children were born.
“As I got bigger, my world got smaller,” says Priebe. “It was hard to travel or go to concerts because I was too big for the seats. If we’d go out to dinner, we had to sit at a table because I couldn’t fit into a booth. It took me 10 minutes to catch my breath after walking up a flight of stairs.”
Even getting dressed and tying her shoes were challenging. And she hadn’t been able to cross her legs — or wear her wedding ring — in years.
“There were so many things that normal people do that you can’t when you’re overweight,” she says. “I didn’t feel good in my own skin.”
Over the years, Priebe tried a number of different diets. She’d lose weight, then gain it back. But when her son, Tyler, announced his engagement, Priebe was determined to lose weight for good.
“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve got to find a dress to wear,’” says Priebe. And she didn’t want it to be a size 22. She began looking into bariatric surgery, attending an information session in Mankato. After learning about the program and meeting staff, she decided to have surgery.
It was a wise and brave decision, says Heidi Bednarchuk, clinical nurse specialist and bariatric surgery coordinator.
“A lot of people are hesitant about the idea of having bariatric surgery because it seems like an extreme solution or because they’re afraid others will think they took the ‘easy way out,’” says Bednarchuk. “The reality is that bariatric surgery offers people who have struggled with weight and yo-yo dieting a fresh start, and, as most of our patients will agree, it takes hard work and commitment.”
That work begins months before surgery, when patients meet with a dietitian and begin making dietary changes and meet with a physical therapist to develop a physical activity plan. They also meet with a behavioral health provider to ensure they are mentally and emotionally prepared for surgery and the lifestyle changes that follow. Some patients also meet with other team members, such as a diabetes educator, endocrine specialist or social worker.
Priebe completed the presurgical requirements and had surgery on Feb. 20, 2013. By her son’s wedding day in October, she’d lost 100 pounds. But what she’s gained is more important.
“I have a whole new life,” she says. “I feel like a whole new person. I feel alive. I feel renewed.”
Seeing patients transform their lives is the best part of her job, says Megan Gilmore, M.D., Priebe’s surgeon.
“I love watching people come to the realization that they have put in the work and reclaimed their lives,” says Dr. Gilmore. “I always tell patients that my role is the smallest. The surgery takes a few hours, but the hard work that the patients put in is what pays off in the end.”
Since losing weight, Priebe has traveled, gone to concerts and started exercising. She can cross her legs, climb stairs without getting winded and wear her wedding ring again.
“It felt awesome to put the ring back on,” she says through tears. “I have a wonderful husband and couldn’t have done this without him.”
Priebe has become a vocal advocate for the bariatric surgery program, and says she would recommend the procedure to anyone.
“I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” she says.
Dr. Gilmore encourages anyone considering the program to attend an informational session.
“Even if a patient is unsure about surgery, getting involved with a comprehensive program like ours can be the first step toward a healthier life,” she says.