By Kathleen Berger, Executive Producer for Science & Technology in collaboration with MU Health Care
Megan Lawson is happiest outdoors when she’s exploring the Missouri countryside on her all-terrain vehicle or enjoying any outdoor adventure. It’s a freedom the 35-year-old lost in her adulthood when struggling with her weight.
“I started to question, you know, is this the plan I have set for myself? Is this how my life is gonna be?”
For years, Lawson struggled with obesity and a host of other medical problems that came with it.
“I was on two different types of blood pressure medicine, two different types of diabetes medicine, plus insulin, and I was on a cholesterol medicine,” explained Lawson.
Lawson turned to MU Health Care’s Missouri Bariatric Services after watching two of her friends successfully lose weight and regain their health after treatment at the clinic. By this point, Lawson weighed 347 pounds and had developed type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
She met with MU Health Care’s chief of bariatric surgery, Andrew Wheeler, MD, who helped her decide which weight loss procedure to pursue. Lawson decided to have gastric bypass surgery, a procedure that reduces the size of the stomach and bypasses part of the small intestines. After the surgery, Lawson ate less and absorbed fewer calories to decrease both food consumption and adsorption.
Wheeler said health problems like Lawson’s are common for patients in his clinic.
“Up to 40% of people will be diabetic. 60% of people may have sleep apnea. High blood pressure is very prevalent,” Wheeler explained.
According to the CDC, obesity is associated with the leading causes of death including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer. Having obesity also increases the risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
There are concerns from members of the scientific community that certain experiences from the COVID-19 pandemic, including lockdowns, may contribute to a growing rate of obesity and associated metabolic diseases.
Before the pandemic, the Department of Health and Senior Services reported almost two out of every three adults in Missouri are considered overweight or obese.
Lawson decided she was done with obesity when she opted for gastric bypass surgery on February 5, 2019.
“Through bypassing part of the intestine, the patient’s sensitivity to insulin is better. And so their ability to have their diabetes improve or go away is much more significant,” Wheeler said.
Lawson focused on eating better and hitting the treadmill daily. By the end of 2019, she lost 150 pounds. In 2020, she lost an additional 20 pounds. She is no longer diabetic and is off all of her medications. She credits her success to both the surgery and her dedication, and she urges people considering surgery not to be afraid.
Wheeler explained how weight loss surgery is a lifelong commitment. He said the average patient loses 65% to 85% of their excess weight. Depending on the procedure, 80% to 90% of patients keep off at least 75% of their weight loss. Fewer than 5% of people gain all of their weight back.
Meagan Lawson is one of the success stories because of her commitment. Lawson said she’s now doing things she never thought possible!
“Now I feel like I can do anything, that I don’t have any more limits on anything that I can do.”