“My whole life I’ve dealt with being overweight,” Tonya Wagner shares. “No one else in my family had a weight problem, but I was in Weight Watchers in the third grade. I tried all different things. I would get to a certain point and the weight loss would stop. Then, I’d get depressed, frustrated and think maybe I’m meant to be like this.”
At first, Tonya didn’t consider weight loss surgery as an option.
“I always said I’d never have surgery,” she says. “I felt that was an easy way out and that I’d be failing if I did that.”
Then, in 2015, Tonya had a daughter, her only child, at age 37. As her child grew and became more active, Tonya started to rethink her decision.
“She has no sibling to be active with so I’m active with her. But I was tired of having no energy and feeling like I didn’t want to play tag with her. I also wanted to be good role model for her. I didn’t want her to look at me and think that’s normal.”
Tonya knew a couple of people who’d had weight loss surgery and were successful with it, including a cousin who had surgery 30 years ago and maintained their weight.
“While doctors told me that a percentage of surgeries fail, I looked at my cousin and thought, ‘doggonit, I am not going to let myself go the wrong way. I am going to make it happen,’” Tonya says.
Tonya requested a list of providers from her insurance company and compared them with their online reviews. She chose Mohamed Dahman, MD, one of our bariatric surgeons, for her initial consultation.
“When I went and talked to him the first time, I was so embarrassed and so nervous,” Tonya recalls. “He backed up that I’m not a failure and that bariatric surgery is a tool to help me. I felt good when I left the consultation. He’s amazing.”
Tonya had her initial visit in June of 2020. At 5-foot-1, she weighed 238 pounds with a body mass index of 44. Although she’d always been healthy and had no underlying health issues, she struggled with pain in addition to fatigue.
“My knees were horrible. I couldn’t stand on one leg to put a sock on. If I sat for too long at work and get up, my knees hurt. Going up the steps hurt so bad. Being overweight all my life destroyed my knees.”
After meeting with our dietitians, completing a psychiatric evaluation as well as blood work and starting an exercise program, Tonya had gastric sleeve surgery, which reduces the size of the stomach to one-third of its original size, in January of 2021.
“I had no complications whatsoever and the surgery went smoothly,” Tonya share.
She notes that Dr. Dahman repaired her hiatal hernias at the same time he performed the gastrectomy.
“You can barely tell I had surgery. There are four incisions, but they are so tiny, there’s only faint scars. That’s impressive.”
Equally impressive are the changes Tonya has experienced since surgery.
“Before surgery, I felt like I could eat all the time and never be full,” she explains. “I’d tell people it’s like I didn’t have an off switch. It’s nice that now I can be full and be satisfied. I have no cravings. It is so nice not to be worrying about having to lose weight. I just don’t think about that anymore.”
And now, Tonya spends her time planning around a new activity – cycling.
“I cycle three to four days a week in good weather, with longer rides on the weekend,” she says. “I signed up for one ride already for next year. My goal was to cycle my first Century Ride (100-mile ride) this year and I did it. Next year, my goal is to complete two 100-mile rides and improve my 50-mile time. Completing a ride across Indiana is my goal for 2024. Now that I am biking like I’m biking, I can tell a difference in how I feel mentally. That I have that energy to be active is huge. It helps me with stress.”
And as an avid horse rider, she notices differences there, too.
“My balance is so much better on a horse now. It’s crazy the difference I feel in the saddle. Today, I can ride my horse bareback without being wobbly, and I feel better for the horse that’s carrying me around, too.”
Tonya now weighs 151 pounds and shopping for clothing has been another newly welcome experience.
“I have to get medium shirts now. I have never worn medium in my life! Before, I hated to go shopping. I hated to go anywhere where you dress up. Being short and plus size, trying to find clothes that looked good was so depressing. Now, I can run to the store and grab a pair of dress pants and not even have to try them on since I know they will fit. Recently, I wore a dress for the first time since my wedding 20 years ago and my sister-in-law’s wedding two years after that. It was a fitted knit one-piece dress, like a sweater dress. I thought it looked good and I’ve never said that before. I got lots of compliments on it.”
Another person benefitting from Tonya’s decision to have surgery is her daughter.
“Now we play games like hide-and-seek and work with her pony together and just stay busy … less TV time.”
And while having surgery is a personal decision, Tonya encourages anyone who’s wondered about it to have an initial consultation.
“The consultation is worth it,” she shares. “You can think about why this would be a good decision and all the pros that you would have to look forward to by having surgery.
Tonya also recommends that people feel a good fit with their care team.
She adds, “you need to be comfortable with the surgeon. Dr. Dahman’s whole team has been amazing. Everyone is super nice and super supportive and that helps, too. You don’t get forgotten about,” she says. “If you are not comfortable after your initial talk with someone, don’t throw it to the side. Check with someone else. I wish I’d had surgery earlier and I’m totally glad I did it.”
This holiday season, we are celebrating by spreading the good news! Read more feel-good stories, like this one, that feature our team members, patients and the wonderful communities we are blessed to serve.
Also, learn more about gastric sleeve surgery as well as the weight loss services we offer at Mercy Health.