Julia Huber grew up on a horse farm and started riding as a toddler. “My lifelong dream was to train horses,” she says.
But 10 years ago, Huber had to stop riding. “I just got too heavy,” says Huber, who had become a “comfort eater” over the years. “I’d eat to feel better, then I’d feel guilty,” she says. “It was a vicious cycle.”
When Huber’s weight surpassed 250 pounds, she began researching different weight-loss surgery programs. Her primary care provider, Ashley Lehman, CRNP, with TriValley Primary Care – Western Bucks, recommended she see weight-loss surgeon Michael Fishman, MD, with Grand View Health Weight Management.
For Huber, who also lives with Crohn’s disease and psoriatic arthritis, Dr. Fishman recommended a type of weight-loss surgery called sleeve gastrectomy. It reduces the size of the stomach and decreases the amount of a hormone (ghrelin) that causes hunger. “He told me that surgery would help me eat to live, and not live to eat,” says Huber, 39, of Quakertown. “That was huge for me.”
Huber spent the next six months preparing for surgery by losing weight on her own, attending pre-surgery classes and consulting with a behavioral health professional, all of which is required in Grand View Health’s program. “It takes commitment, and it’s worth it,” she says.
She had the surgery in August 2019. One year later, she’s 107 pounds lighter, and she’s lowered her cholesterol level to normal. “Before the surgery, Dr. Fishman said he’d be happy to see me at 150 pounds, and I’ve made it,” she says. Her energy levels have soared, and her Crohn’s disease and psoriatic arthritis symptoms have lessened.
After recovering from surgery, she started exercising by cleaning stalls at a barn. Then she began riding again, and now owns two horses. She even performed a follow-up visit with Dr. Fishman on horseback by using the Grand View Health patient portal on her smartphone!
“I’m having the best time of my life,” she says. “It’s like I’m 18 again, but even better, because I have my husband and our three boys by my side.”
Tim Belloff’s home scale only went as high as 430 pounds, so he wasn’t sure how much weight he had gained through the years. But he remembers the moment he decided to make a change for the better.
He was on a family vacation with his wife, Amy, daughter, Emily, and son, T.J. in the summer of 2017. He and Emily waited two hours in line to board a ride at an Orlando, Fla., theme park. When they got to the front of the line, Tim found out he couldn’t fit on the ride. “To see the disappointment on my daughter’s face when she had to get off the ride was not an OK thing,” Tim says.
Once he returned to his Sellersville home, Belloff began researching options for weight-loss surgery. “I saw they had a strong program at Grand View Health,” he says. “I liked that it was close to home and that they had a structure in place to be successful.”
To learn more, Belloff attended the hospital’s weight-loss surgery support groups, where he heard directly from other people who went through the same journey. Belloff also met with weight-loss surgeon Michael Fishman, MD, with Grand View Surgical Associates, who recommended he undergo sleeve gastrectomy, a procedure that reduces the size of the stomach.
“He’s no-nonsense,” Belloff says of Dr. Fishman. “He and his team are friendly, open and honest. He made it clear that you need to seriously consider whether surgery is right for you, and then you have to be committed to make it work.”
In August 2018, Dr. Fishman performed a sleeve gastrectomy procedure on Belloff. After struggling to lose weight his entire life, Belloff began experiencing weight loss success. In a year, he lost 200-plus pounds.
He also experienced many other health improvements: His prediabetes disappeared. His cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure—three key indicators of heart health—went from high to normal. And he no longer needed the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine he had used at night for a dozen years to control his sleep apnea. “It’s fantastic not to have to carry that CPAP with me,” he says.
Even better are the times he gets to spend with his family. He’s coaching 6-year-old T.J.’s baseball team. “I’m an active participant now, running with them and interacting with them,” he says. And last year, he ran alongside 10-year-old Emily in a “Girls on the Run” 5K race conducted through Emily’s school. “It was amazing to do that,” he says. “I feel like I’m a role model for my kids.”
Belloff also serves as a role model for others. He continues to attend Grand View Health’s online weight-loss surgery support groups, sharing his story and offering a helping hand to others who want to follow in his footsteps. “I’m willing to talk to anyone about it,” he says. “Weight-loss surgery is hard work, but it’s worth the effort. I consider it life-changing.”
In December 2016, Amanda Vories figured she’d join her friends in a 5K race. Although she was overweight, “I figured I could walk the 3.1 miles,” she says. But less than a mile in, she had to quit.
That motivated Amanda to attend her first free Grand View Health bariatric surgery information session. Her husband, Benton, joined her. They not only chose to have bariatric surgery, but eventually did so on the same day – April 19, 2017.
A love of food – and for each other – defined Amanda and Benton’s life. So too did weight issues. They both had tried Weight Watchers and other programs and had successfully lost weight, only to gain it back.
By the time they began Grand View Health’s bariatric surgery program, Amanda weighed 287 pounds, and Benton weighed 380. Benton also developed sleep apnea and new onset type 2 diabetes that required insulin. “I was too young for this,” says Benton, now 32.
When they attended the information session, “We were crazy inspired,” says Amanda, also 32. “It wasn’t a sales pitch. (Bariatric surgeon) Dr. Fishman gave us the info, and we figured it out.”
Grand View offers a comprehensive program. “Our patients meet with dietitians four-to-six months prior to surgery so they learn what it takes to be successful,” says bariatric surgeon Michael Fishman, MD, an area native who has been performing bariatric procedures at Grand View since 2015. The program also includes a behavioral health evaluation to prepare patients for the emotional challenges of bariatric surgery.
“Jenny (Koscho), the dietitian, put us on a plan that guaranteed we’d lose weight,” Benton says. “We went on high-protein diets, learned about proper portion sizes, and about what foods we could eat afterward.”
In April, both Amanda and Benton underwent vertical sleeve gastrectomy, during which Dr. Fishman removed a portion of their stomachs and used a stapling device to create a “sleeve” about the size of a banana. “It’s become the most popular bariatric surgery option in the U.S.,” Dr. Fishman says.
One year out from surgery, Amanda and Benton have lost a combined 306 pounds. Benton no longer needs insulin to control his diabetes (his hemoglobin A1c level is now normal). And long gone are the days when they couldn’t walk a mile. They’ve run seven races since surgery, and last May, Benton completed the 10-mile Broad Street Run in Philadelphia.
“For us, success after surgery is more than the number on the scale,” says Amanda, who also picked up a second job at the Upper Bucks YMCA in Quakertown to stay fit. “It’s about doing better and feeling healthier.”