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Good Sam patients reunite after transformative weight loss

DOWNERS GROVE – Several dress sizes and about 110 pounds ago, Shari Feaster said she would wake up in the morning and her weight would consume her every thought.

"You say, 'I'm going to start this day on the right path,'" she said. "And you have all this energy. And then you slip, and you're discouraged."

That daily up-and-down mirrored her attempts at dieting. It would have a short impact, but binge eating would eventually derail the process.

"I get emotional and I feed that with food until I physically feel as bad as I do emotionally," she said.

That all changed almost a year ago, when Feaster, 36, a Downers Grove resident relocating to Texas this month, had gastric sleeve surgery at Good Samaritan Hospital.

Last week, Feaster and about 84 other patients who had the surgery or other bariatric surgeries, such as the lap band procedure, met for a reunion with the medical staff at the hospital.

For doctors and staff, the annual event reveals the dramatic transformation of their successful patients. For Feaster and others learning to adapt to their new lifestyles, the camaraderie and celebration serves as a good support base.

"It's really dramatic," said Feaster's bariatric surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Rosen. "If [we have] not seen the person for a couple years, we have to look at their old picture. Sometimes you can't see who the person is."

The gastric sleeve procedure removes about two-thirds of the stomach. The remaining stomach is narrow, resembling a sleeve in appearance. After the surgery, it can only hold a cup of food after the swelling recedes. It makes it difficult to over-eat.

"I can take a few bites of any protein and I feel full," Feaster said. "Even if I was having a bad day and wanted to binge, I cannot."

Patients still have to subscribe to the lifestyle changes necessary to lose the weight. It's an impetus for change and helpful tool, but not a cure-all, Rosen said.

He said some patients return to their old lifestyles after the procedure, thinking the surgery will do the work for them. The stomach slowly stretches over time, allowing the patients to over-eat again.

"I would love to be able to say I wish I would have had the surgery years ago," Feaster said. "But I don't know if I would have been in the right frame of mind to be able to follow through on the program like you're supposed to. I know people who have had the surgery, and they don't have the mindset for it. They're in their early 20s, and they're out there eating fast food again.

"It's not a miracle, you have to do the work."

So far, Feaster has followed through. At 220 pounds, she would like to lose about 60 more, she said.

But already, she is able to do things she could not before, and her health has improved dramatically. Before the weight loss, she was developing diabetes, and was beginning to take insulin injections. When the weight fell, so did her high blood sugar, she said, and she is now completely off diabetes medication.

Two-thirds as heavy as a year ago, she can jog 5 kilometers in 30 minutes, a distance that used to take her an hour to walk.

"Just from the moment I wake up, I don't have the thoughts of, 'Oh my goodness, what am I going to do?'" she said. "I wake up happy."

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