Losing to win: NAH Weight Management Clinic helps patients turn their health around

In her office at Northern Arizona Healthcare’s Weight Management Clinic in Flagstaff, Patient Advocate Betsy Fritz keeps a thick, beautifully-decorated album. Open it, and stories and photos pour out – the words and images of people whose weight stopped them from walking normally; fitting into ordinary clothes; or even sitting comfortably at a desk.

The album also features another, very different set of stories and photos. Here, people describe running outdoors, swimming in the ocean and playing with their grandchildren. Looking into the camera, they hold up – triumphantly – pairs of jeans that could wrap around their bodies twice.

It’s only when you look closer that you realize these stories and photos are of the same people – before they began their weight-loss journeys, and afterward. Some you can recognize only by their eyes.

Dawn Mosher, 50, who lives in Prescott, is one of these people.

“Gastric bypass surgery gave me my life back,” she said. “I was 386 pounds, had two small kids, and my health was deteriorating – diabetes, asthma, high cholesterol, narcolepsy and gout. My pulmonologist said my lung function was the lowest he had ever seen in a patient. I was expecting to die any day, but I decided I wanted to live to see my kids grow up.”

Dawn has lost 142 pounds since April 2015, and no longer suffers from any obesity-related illnesses. She did, however, learn she had colon cancer after undergoing a colonoscopy required by the bariatric program. She received treatment and is now cancer-free.

“If I hadn’t jumped through all the hoops of the bariatric program and undergone all the medical checkups, I wouldn’t even have known I had it,” she said. “So if I hadn’t died of obesity-related causes, I might easily have died of colon cancer.”

Dawn, who now has four children – all adopted – loves surprising them with the things she can do.

“My kids had no idea I used to be a baseball player…but now I can play with them and actually jump up in the air to try and catch the ball instead of telling them, ‘Just throw it at me.’ I got to go on a roller coaster for the first time in 20 years – my kids had no idea I liked roller coasters, because it wasn’t safe for me to ride them before.”

Since the Weight Management Clinic opened in 2004, it has been both the last resort and the first choice for more than a thousand people like Dawn. A last resort, because these patients – each overweight by at least 100 pounds – had tried dozens of diets and exercise programs; and the first choice, because of its distinction as a Center of Excellence by the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. The program is staffed by a team that supports each patient during every step of his or her comprehensive lifestyle overhaul, both before and after the procedure.

Fritz, who leads a free information session offered to interested patients, meets many patients who are suffering from hernias or facing knee or hip replacement surgery – and their doctors have suggested weight loss as a means to relieve the attendant pain.

“From the night they attend the information session to the day of surgery and afterward, I help guide everyone through the process…As patient advocate, I’m a bit like a midwife.”

If you would like to learn more about what bariatric surgery can do for you, please attend a free bariatric surgery information session. These sessions meet from 6 to 7 p.m. the second Tuesday of each month at the DoubleTree by Hilton, 1175 W. Route 66 in Flagstaff. Check-in begins at 5:30 p.m. All participants must pre-register for the information session. If you live outside the Flagstaff area, you can stream the session to your home computer.  If you plan to participate via web streaming, please pre-register at NAHealth.com/Bariatrics. For further information, call 928-440-5067.