Review of My Vertical Sleeve Gastrectomy Experience: Lots of Photos, Videos and How Much it Cost.

Tags: woman age 35-44 weight fluctuation consultation insurance massive weight loss weight gain overweight

Overall procedure rating

Practice & Staff

  • 5 -
    Ease of scheduling an appointment
  • 5 -
    Office environment, cleanliness, comfort...
  • 5 -
    Staff friendliness and courteousness

Overall experience with the procedures

  • 5 -
    Level of trust in provider's decisions
  • 5 -
    How well provider explained procedure(s)
  • 5 -
    How well provider listens to and answers questions
  • 5 -
    Amount of time provider spent with you

Procedure specific satisfaction rating


Performed 2012

Zwivel Rating

I would like to share my weight loss surgery experience with you. My name is Emily Martens and I am 38 years old. I had the vertical sleeve gastrectomy surgery on August 20, 2012 with Dr. Jeffrey Gawel of Spectrum Health Bariatrics.

When I was about 28 years old I was considered morbidly obese after putting on about 60 pounds with my two pregnancies. I started off overweight to begin with. I kept seeing commercials for lap band surgery on TV and so I went to a bariatric office in Holland, MI, and had a group consult with Dr. Jon Schram. I was very interested in the procedure because it seemed less invasive than the other bariatric surgeries I had heard about and it appeared as though people were having success with it. I did not qualify to have it covered by insurance and I also had an internal debate going on in my head that I really didn’t need to have surgery if I would just try hard enough to lose weight and that God had made my body exactly how He wanted it at so it was mostly forgotten after that.

When I was 29 I went through a separation and a divorce and ended up putting on more weight in the process. I struggled with losing and regaining small amounts of weight, 10 or 20 pounds here or there. My gynecologist’s wife, who was a physician, was overseeing a medical weight loss program and so I decided to check that out. It was mostly a liquid diet and there was some behavioral therapy that was supposed to be involved. It was approved through my insurance, so I went and started the program. The office didn’t really follow up on me to make sure I was doing the behavioral health piece and I can say I don’t think I ever went for that part. I stuck to the 800 calories a day diet and lost over 50 pounds. Within the next 8 months I had gained it back plus 20-30 more pounds. I got up to 290 pounds at my highest weight.

The spring and beginning of summer 2012, I started talking to people at work that had the gastric sleeve surgery done. I asked lots of questions and had a friend on Facebook who had recently had a gastric bypass who was inspiring me. So, I called Spectrum Health Bariatrics who had just added physician Dr. Jon Schram to their team. I wanted Dr. Schram because I know he had done thousands of bariatric surgeries. When I called, though, he didn’t have privileges yet at the hospital in Grand Rapids so my surgery would have had to be in Holland, Michigan about 30 miles away. I opted to see the other physician in the office, Dr. Jeffrey Gawel. He was a general surgeon turned bariatric surgeon who had done a few hundred bariatric surgeries so I felt confident in his abilities.

I read my insurance company’s medical policy on bariatric surgery and I felt that I fit the criteria. I went in for my consultation with Dr. Gawel. He was a pleasant man and he thought that I would be a good candidate for surgery. The office got an insurance approval to have the surgery covered and before I knew it I was doing the pre-op dietician visits, diet, and testing and surgery was scheduled. There was a liquid diet prior to surgery and there were visits with a dietician which talked about healthy eating choices after surgery.

Between my consult and surgery, I developed gall stones, so a plan was made to have my gall bladder removed at the same time as my vertical sleeve gastrectomy.

The day of surgery my parents came with me to Spectrum Health Blodgett Hospital in Grand Rapids. I was ready to have this done. I had seen some pictures of myself from a camping trip I had gone on and was sad to see what I had done to my body. I wanted help and hated suffering from obesity. I wanted a new start. They told me I would need to stay at least one night but possibly two depending on my water and protein intake and pain, etc. Some people hardly experience a bit of pain and others have a lot of pain. I had no idea what to expect. I wasn’t worried about that part I just wanted to start my weight loss journey.

My surgery date had arrived and it went well from what we were told. When I was wheeled back to my room, though, I remember feeling awful and had a lot of pain. I immediately asked the nurse for pain medication to help with the cramping and pain I was feeling. I woke up later in the night in a lot of pain and the nurse encouraged me to walk around the halls to help with the internal gas issues. She said that she had given me as much pain medication as she was able to. I looked at her with tears in my eyes and begged her to ask the doctor for something else. I could tell that she was very empathetic when I pleaded with her and she made a call and got me something else to relieve the pain. I was so thankful as this allowed me to get some sleep as well as alleviate some of the pain.

I don’t know if I experienced more pain than others typically do, because I had my gall bladder out as well but the next day I still had a lot of cramping and pain. My kids came to visit me along with a couple of friends. It was a nice distraction. I think at that time I may have been contemplating “why did I do this?” But it was too late to turn back at that point. I had to have a barium swallow test done that day. They wheel you down to radiology but you have to drink this awful barium drink and then stand up to have your stomach x-rayed to make sure there are no leaks. That experience was awful in my mind. It was uncomfortable and painful, especially to stand up. I was so ready to get back to the bed. I wanted to extend my hospital stay another night and I was able to. The pain became more manageable.

When it was time to go home, they sent me home with prescriptions one of them being a medicine that dissolves under your tongue to help with the cramping that can occur after surgery. I needed this and was thankful for it in the days following surgery. The ride home from the hospital was rough. I was in bad shape for a couple of days and slept mostly. I couldn’t get the recommended liquid and calorie amounts down but I did what I could. All was fine at my follow up appointment. I think I was sent home with Vicodin after surgery too but I only took maybe one of them. I hated how they made me feel.

I was mostly pain free after about a week. I was very excited when it was time to incorporate food back into my diet even though it was only pureed foods and I could take only one bite at a time. A couple of months after surgery, I went through a mourning period for food. I would get sad when I would try to eat something really yummy and could barely eat any of it. It was my food addiction slowly dying. I finally felt like I was no longer a food addict. It needed to happen.

Within the first 10 months of surgery, I lost about 80-90 pounds of excess weight. Looking back, I could have lost so much more weight if I had pushed. I very much liked Dr. Gawel and feel that he did a great job on my stomach. However, the office itself leaves a bit to be desired. After a couple of visits with hi, I ended up seeing the PA. She was really kind but I didn’t feel like there was a great follow up program. The dietician encouraged eating up to 1200 calories a day and encouraged eating things like whole grain bread and rice, etc. Now I know that this is not a good diet especially for a post-op weight loss patient. So, after three years of sitting at 195 pounds I decided to get real. I cut the carbs in my diet and started figuring out what other successful weight loss surgery patients were eating a few years out. By doing this, I got a guideline of what my calorie intake and carb count should be. I lost another 30 pounds by doing this. Had I stuck with the advice from the office I would probably weigh over 200 pounds now. My current weight was 166 when I weighed myself last week.

The surgery cost me $1000 out of pocket and the insurance covered the rest, thankfully. This surgery absolutely changed my life. I am physically able to move like never. I am more fit than ever and love my new life style. I have a desire to go to the gym. I can do more with my kids. I am not ashamed of my body. Through surgery, weight loss, and therapy I have a whole new outlook on life. Having this surgery was the best decision I have ever made in my life and I would do it again in a second. Good luck with your decision and I wish you all the best!

Dr. Jeffrey Gawel

East Grand Rapids, MI