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Patient Stories

Drew Bell's Story Begins


Drew Bell, 28, loves being outdoors. Growing up in Mayo, he enjoyed hunting, fishing and canoeing—just being active outside. But all of that activity didn’t help when it came to his weight.

"I’ve always been the chubby little kid."

Even after two years at a military college, where he reports he was in the best shape of his life, his BMI, or the measurement of the amount of fat in his body, classified him as obese. And while he struggled with his weight over the years, it took a health scare last summer to motivate him to get serious about something he had long considered: weight loss surgery.

"I began having chest pains," Drew says, "and that really scared me. And I had to wait a couple of weeks between the time I went to my doctor and when my test results came back. That was a really, really long two weeks, and even though nothing turned out to be wrong with my heart, I knew it was time to stop procrastinating and do something."

That’s when Drew visited the Center for Obesity Surgery & Treatment at North Florida Regional Healthcare. The center offers a comprehensive weight loss program, including counseling, education and nutrition, as well as surgical options and post-surgery support. The center has been performing weight loss surgeries for more than 25 years, and the center has been accredited by the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery as a Bariatric Surgery Center of Excellence®. Centers that have this accreditation meet rigorous quality indicators and outcomes to ensure a high caliber of care is provided to patients.

Weighing His Options

At his heaviest, Drew weighed 412 pounds, and was having trouble regulating his blood sugar, as well as suffering from sleep apnea and an aggravated foot injury. He wasn’t able to enjoy many of his favorite activities, and as a probation officer for the State of Florida, he felt his weight was holding him back professionally.

Over the years, he had tried many, many weight loss programs, enjoying success with most of them—for a time. But eventually, the weight always came back. After a thorough evaluation at the center, Drew chose Laparoscopic Adjustable Gastric Banding, better known as the Lap-Band®, as the best tool to help him reach his goal weight.

Adjustable gastric banding is a minimally invasive procedure. An inflatable silicone band is implanted into the abdomen, and is fastened around the upper stomach to create a tiny pouch that limits and controls the amount of food eaten. The band can be adjusted to achieve lifelong control over weight loss. There is no cutting, stapling or stomach re-routing, so this method is considered the least traumatic of all weight loss surgeries.

Dr. Timothy Hipp performed Drew’s surgery in April. Dr. Hipp is a part of the Surgical Group of Gainesville and is the Medical Director at the Center for Obesity Surgery & Treatement. Dr. Hipp says this surgery is a good option for one reason — it works.

"Obesity is a major health epidemic in this country, with two-thirds of Americans being overweight," says Dr. Timothy Hipp. "This is not a cosmetic problem, not just a quality of life problem, it’s a major health problem."

Dr. Hipp continues that although traditional weight loss programs can be effective in the short-term, we as humans naturally tend to go right back to our bad habits when we stop a program. "Research shows," he says, "that 80 percent of people have success with major weight loss after bariatric surgery, while only 10 percent do with other methods."

Starting Fresh

Strict criteria must be met to be considered for weight loss surgery. Patients must have a BMI over 40, or between 35 and 40, if they have another condition, such as hypertension or sleep apnea, that is threatening their health. Drew reports that his insurance company required following a supervised, documented weight loss program for six months before it would approve his surgery. Other preparations included a psychological evaluation and a very strict diet for two weeks before the actual procedure.

For his lap-band procedure, Drew reported for surgery on a Thursday and was released on Friday morning. Though he says he felt some discomfort immediately after the surgery, by Thursday evening he felt great and was walking the halls. The band itself is placed during this procedure, but it is not initially inflated. Drew recently had his band inflated for the first time at an outpatient appointment at the center and reports he does notice the difference. "I can tell there’s more restriction with this first fill. I feel full with small portions."

Now down to 326 pounds on his way to his goal weight of 250, Drew cautions those considering weight-loss surgery to understand that "it’s not a magic pill." He continues to follow a healthier diet with smaller portions. Dr. Hipp agrees.

"Drew understands that weight loss surgery is a tool and not something that has been done to him, but for him, to help him meet his goals. Drew has done very well because of his commitment, and I’m optimistic he will continue to be very successful."

And though he has not gone out and bought an entirely new wardrobe—he knows he’ll just have to replace it in a few months anyway—Drew is looking most forward to wakeboarding soon. "I used to wakeboard as a kid, and I just loved it. But as I got heavier, it just got too hard. Once I get a little lighter, I’m really looking forward to doing that again."

Drew has agreed to video stories that will follow him as his journey continues following weight loss surgery. In this first video, Drew talks from his heart about why he chose surgery and what it means to his future.