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Okabena woman feeling better inside and out after gastric sleeve surgery

Connie Busswitz of Okabena has found her horseback riding significantly easier thanks to a 135-pound weight loss. (Special to the Daily Globe)1 / 2
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WORTHINGTON — Nearly two years ago, Connie Busswitz followed through with a surgery that has made her a markedly different person both inside and out.

Busswitz, who resides in Okabena, opted for gastric sleeve surgery, which was performed by Dr. Curtis Perry at Sanford Surgical Associates in Sioux Falls, S.D. Today, her weight is 157 pounds — a far cry from the 282 pounds she carried prior to her operation.

Up to that point, Connie — who will be 26 next month — had a virtually lifelong struggle with her weight. She had a reaction to MMR (mumps, measles and rubella) vaccine when she was 15 months old, and as a result had to take Depakote (valporic acid) to control seizures. In 2007, she went off all her medication, as she had continued her weight gain over the years.

Multiple types of diets and exercise, though, wouldn’t do the trick, as Connie would lose a few pounds and then promptly gain them back. Finally, in 2014, she was asked if she wanted to have a gastric procedure. Six consecutive monthly visits to a nutritionist followed, as well as a psychological evaluation that was also required. She also needed to undergo an EGD (esophagogastroduodenoscopy — where a doctor examines the lining of the esophagus, stomach and duodenum, which is the upper part of the small intestine) to see if she had any acid reflux issues.

After all the required preliminaries were complete, Connie was given a surgery date of April 20, 2015.

A life-changing day

Prior to her surgery, Connie was required to lose 10 percent of her body weight. So, she started the Sanford Profile diet in November 2014.

“I always felt full, and I lost more than the 10 percent,” Connie remembered. “They told me I lost more than most people do. I went from 282 pounds to 242.”

Losing the weight was necessary so that her liver could be moved during the surgery, she said. Once the required (and more) weight loss was achieved, Connie also had to have nothing but liquids on the day before her operation.

Connie recalls walking in the room where she was prepared for her surgery and changing into a gown. Once she came out, she tried to maintain a sense of humor in the wake of what was to come.

“I went in after changing and Stephanie Ideker (physician assistant) said, ‘I’m going to put a cap on you now,”’ Connie said. “I said, ‘Come on, Steph, you’re making me look like an old lady now.’ Then I was told to lay on the table, and I did … and I was freaking out on the table. The anesthesiologist said, ‘Stephanie, I thinking we should be trading spots. You should be by the head and I should be the by the feet’ — she knew I was closer to and more comfortable with Stephanie.”

Of the procedure itself, Connie is pretty straightforward. What’s left inside your stomach “is the size of banana,” she explained, adding that “basically, 75 percent of your stomach is removed.”

Connie, naturally, doesn’t remember the procedure itself.

“I remember is waking up in recovery,” she said; she thinks that was approximately 90 minutes later. “I was lying on a bed and a nurse was saying, ‘Connie, is there anything I can get you?’ I looked at the nurse with a little bit of a smile and said, ‘I want my mom.’”

A little bit later, Connie said “it took about four nurses to get me out of bed” to get her on her feet.

“A friend of mine had a different surgery on the same date as I did … and she told me that she wanted to go for a walk with her in the hallway,” she said. “I went for a walk with her and on the sixth lap, the nurse said, ‘Connie, are you sure don’t want to walk any faster?” I looked behind me, and I saw the surgeon. I was really nervous and shy around the surgeon, so I ran. I ran a little bit slow, but I did run.”  

For two weeks following her surgery, Connie kept on a liquid diet.

“That really didn’t bother me because I didn’t feel like eating,” she said. “I had to let my stomach heal. I was told if you ate any solid food, you would vomit it up.”

Connie would soon transition from a liquid to puree diet. In August or September, she returned to her nutritionist and was given permission to return to solid foods. She said she had chicken and green beans her first night back on solids, but “really didn’t care what I ate, and I still don’t.

“My behavior toward eating has definitely changed,” she added.

Looking better/feeling better

Connie said that prior to her surgery, “basically everyone would have one plate of food, and I would go back for seconds most of the time.” Ham salad was one favorite; she “always had to have the last bite.”

Now, she doesn’t need to have that last bite, and she feels better as a result. One significant positive for her — she can once again enjoy being on her horse.

“I had been depressed .. and I couldn’t even get up on my horse,” she said. “I was told that if I lost weight, my horse would appreciate me.

“I basically did it for my horse and myself, really. I’m a barrel racer and two people told me, ‘Connie, if you lose a lot of weight, your horse is going to improve speed a lot. Last year was probably our first year of placing in barrels and poles (pole racing).”

There was one additional significant procedure that helped Connie along the way, as she underwent what’s commonly known as a tummy tuck on May 3, 2016.

“Early in 2016, I had so much of skin still around my stomach that I had to get it removed,” she explained. “I didn’t have any rashes or anything, but I went to a plastic surgeon and she said if I could make into a ball, it’s all loose skin. I had the tummy tuck in May 3 … and basically went straight home after.”

Connie remembers the immediate recovery from the skin removal as being a bit more difficult than her previous surgery, but she still made quick progress.

“I went back to the plastic surgeon and was told, ‘I’ve never seen anyone stand up straight like you after just a week. Most people take a couple of weeks.’ I said, ‘I don’t want to walk like my grandma.’”

Connie added that she lost weight quicker than was expected, dropping down to her current weight by April 2016.

“A lot of my friends tell me I look great,” she admitted. “I have people that call people these names that kind of make you laugh. … I used to be just Connie, but now my dad calls me Slim Jim.

“I like having more energy, and I like riding horse more often than I used to. I also don’t let negative people get to me like I used to.”

Connie said she would recommend her surgery to anyone considering it, though it’s by no means a quick and easy fix.

“If you want to try and lose weight and change your lifestyle, watch your carbs and protein,” she stated. ”I try to have 60 grams of a protein in a day; people say protein fills you up faster than carbs.

“My doctor told me that this not something you can just overnight,” Connie added of her gastric sleeve surgery and weight loss. “Once you have this, it’s lifetime. You have to be committed to it.”  

Ryan McGaughey

I first joined the Daily Globe in April 2001 as sports editor. I later became the news editor in November 2002, and the managing editor in August 2006. I'm originally from New York State, and am married with two children.

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