Wonders of before and after

A big part of Grand Haven resident Erica Phelps' career is shaping the lives of others through an emphasis on healthy living. Phelps' mission will come to light during the May 14 Fifth Third River Bank Run in Grand Rapids, as she's provided a workout regime and continued motivation for a group of 16 patients from around West Michigan who have undergone bariatric weight loss surgery.
Nate Thompson
Apr 30, 2011

Together, the group has lost a combined 1,500 pounds thanks to the procedure performed by Dr. Brian Gluck at Life Without Limits bariatric practice, which is associated with Mercy Hospital in Muskegon. Phelps is a registered dietician at the facility and is also a trainer at the Tri-Cities Family YMCA in Grand Haven.

Bariatric weight loss surgery is performed on the severely obese by either reducing the size of the stomach by implanting a medical device called a gastric banding; removing a portion of the stomach; or re-routing the small intenstines to a small stomach pouch. The procedure leaves patients feeling full much quicker during meals and typically results in substantial weight loss.

Phelps said ideas were kicked around to encourage the patients to strive for goals in health and fitness, and the thought of organizing a group to compete in the popular, challenging River Bank Run stuck.

“Those who signed up live in various distances across West Michigan, are male and female and are six months to up to four years removed from the surgery,” Phelps said.

Out of the 16 competitors, two will be running the 25K at the River Bank; two will compete in the 10K; five will run the 5K; and the remaining will participate in the 5K walk.

The 25K runners started their workout plan devised by Phelps in January, while the 10K runners began in February and the 5K in March. The workout regimen for the 25K runners, for example, includes running three to four days a week and doing cross training exercises such as biking or walking on other days.

“I’ve been thrilled at how much these people have inspired me,” Phelps said. “They’re going out and continuing their training on (rainy and cold) days like today, which goes to show you how much this means to them.”

Phelps scoffs at the notion that bariatric surgery is an easy way out for those who are obese. In fact, she said, it’s just a start to their journey.

“After they have the surgery, they have to continue to work hard at it,” she said. “It’s a complete lifestyle change. It doesn’t work unless you work with it.”

The following West Michigan women on Phelps’ River Bank team that agreed to share their story know that first hand, and are looking forward to crossing the finish line on May 14.

POLICE OFFICER DROPS 100 POUNDS

Stephanie Morningstar tried everything to lose weight, whether it was cutting out sweets, paying for programs such as Weight Watchers or running on her own.

“Nothing worked,” she said. “I just couldn’t lose any weight.”

The Hudsonville resident and West Michigan police officer always considered herself athletic and enjoyed running and walking, but the strain on her body — especially her knees — from being overweight didn’t make the exercise rewarding.

On April 19, 2010, Morningstar, a married mother of two, tried a last resort and underwent bariatric surgery.

Before the procedure, she weighed 260 pounds. Now, she’s a fit-and-trim 160 — a weight that allowed her to complete a half-marathon in Mount Pleasant last month and a 5K run just two months after her surgery.

“It really is amazing,” she said.

A demanding workout schedule that includes running hills and covering distances 15 miles or more has her confident for the River Bank Run.

“At first, I only signed up for the 10K, but I thought about it some more and decided I really wanted to push myself.

“I just want to finish and run the entire time, not walk. I’m hoping I can keep around 10-minute miles. Of course next year, I want to beat my time.”

It’s a drastic change in thought for Morningstar. Asked if she ever considered competing in an event like the River Bank Run before her surgery, she replied, “not chance.”

Now, she’s striving to inspire other bariatric patients, those battling weight issues and even her family. They’ve already joined her in a handful of 5Ks and other events around West Michigan.

“My eight year-old son (Bryce), he’s already running an 8-minute mile. Now I can keep up with him,” she said. “I used to just wait at the finish line for him, but now he has someone to run with him.

“I’m getting my husband (James) interested in running, too. Everyone’s involved. We’ve created a Sunday family run. It’s definitely a change in our lifestyle.”

MOTHER OF 3 READY FOR 1ST 5K

There was a time when Kim Vossekuil found that an activity as simple as climbing a flight of stairs was tiring. It was even an adventure to bend over to tie her own shoes.

There was a clear reason why: she was overweight.

“As a single mother of three, I kind of put myself on the backburner,” the Muskegon resident said, who weighed 316 pounds before her bariatric surgery in October of 2008.

Since the procedure, Vossekuil, a surgical technologist, has lost an amazing 160 pounds, or “like a whole person,” she joked.

“I have no regrets when I did it,” she said “I was mentally ready to accept the changes in my life, which were really needed.”

Now training for the River Bank Run since the middle of March, she’s confident she’ll be able to complete the 5K race, which would be her first.

“I purposely told people about it so I wouldn’t back out,” she said with a laugh. “My cousin’s bridal shower is on the same day, and before, I might have used that as an excuse to get out of exercise. But I stuck with it. I learned it’s OK to be a little selfish once in awhile, especially when it concerns your health.”

Vossekuil agreed with Phelps’ assertion that bariatric surgery is not an easy way out. If anything, it’s encouraged her to take the time to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

“Maybe you don’t have time to go to the gym everyday, but you can find time to do something active, whether it’s going up and down the stairs or bench pressing your child, which they really think is fun.”

 

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