My Life, 85 Pounds Lighter

Sandy Carwell's World Is Different After Weight-Loss Surgery

When Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) nurse navigator Sandy Carwell, RN, started working at LVHN's Weight Management Center two years ago, she felt a special kinship with her patients. Like them, she had spent years trying diet after diet to slim down.

"After I stopped doing gymnastics at age 16, I started putting on weight," Carwell says. By age 51, the Macungie woman was carrying 215 pounds on her tiny 5-foot-1-inch frame and often felt too drained for physical activity. Her 5-year-old twin grandchildren were especially disappointed grandma couldn't join them at the amusement park and swimming pool.

One day, Carwell did a double-take when a former weight-loss-surgery patient stopped by her office. "The change was unbelievable," she says.

"I thought, I want that success for myself – it’s my turn."

Carwell failed to qualify right away for bariatric surgery because she did not have the necessary obesity-related health problems.

However, she later developed high blood pressure and sleep apnea (pauses in breathing during sleep) that required her to take medication and use a CPAP breathing machine at night. Carwell was accepted and underwent minimally invasive sleeve gastrectomy surgery last August with LVHN bariatric surgeon Richard Boorse, MD, of LVPG General and Bariatric Surgery.

"The procedure is performed laparoscopically through several small incisions in the abdomen using special instruments and a camera," Boorse says. "Part of the stomach is removed, leaving a portion about the size and shape of a banana. Since the stomach is smaller, people feel full much quicker."

Carwell's Tips for Success

She overcame the plateaus
Carwell dropped her desired 85 pounds after only eight months. Her biggest hurdle was breaking through frustrating weight-loss plateaus (when the scale stalls). "Your body thinks it's starving and stores every calorie," she says. "You have to shake it up – increase your food intake and raise your activity level – and then your body starts burning calories again."

She learned how to battle hunger
"Before surgery, I felt like a bottomless pit," Carwell says. "Now I have this definite full feeling and can walk away after meals." To keep her metabolism fired up, Carwell eats a mini meal or snack every three hours. "I focus on lean proteins like low-fat meat, cheese or beans, and non-starchy and green, leafy vegetables," she says.

The trick is to maintain what she’s lost and not fall back on unhealthy eating habits. "Weight-loss surgery isn't a miracle and doesn't work alone," she says. "Sometimes hunger comes back, or your mind starts saying you’re hungry when you’re actually stressed or bored. You need to do something else – call a friend or go for a walk."

She got active
Carwell loves walking outdoors and uses the treadmill at work during most lunch hours. At least twice a week she attends fitness classes, including the "pound" (drum-based workout) class at LVHN Fitness–One City Center.

Best of all, Carwell is sharing games of T-ball with her grandchildren and joining in their high-energy fun.

She did a 'fashion makeover'
Carwell has revamped her wardrobe to show off her slender figure. She also recently took her husband's advice and got a new bob hairstyle that frames and flatters her slimmed-down face. "People hardly recognize me, and patients sometimes think I'm new," she says.

She got healthier
Carwell's blood pressure has dropped to normal, and her sleep apnea is gone.

She shared her story with others
Just as her patients once motivated her to lose weight, Carwell now shares her personal journey to encourage new patients, including showing her "before" picture. "They're amazed and realize I truly understand what they're going through," she says. "Surgery changed my life. If you've tried everything else, take the next step and do it."