People: Teresa Gash

December 22, 2003|EMILY BURTON

"Make sure you pick the one that makes me looks the skinniest," says the woman as she poses for a picture outside her office door. Her sleeveless black shirt is neatly tucked in sleek black pants, a bright red sweater in her hands.

"I would put on the sweater, but this shirt makes me look thin," she says with a smile.

Her concern is understandable. Four months ago, she was 89 pounds heavier.

Teresa Gash sits down behind her desk and puts on the Christmas sweater as she hands over a picture of herself before undergoing an innovative, minimally invasive stomach surgery. Before doctors reduced the size of her stomach in July, she was almost 90 pounds heavier, quieter in public and painfully aware of her physical limitations.

"Life before would be like, you didn't want to go to Rupp (Arena) because you knew your butt couldn't fit in those chairs," said Gash.


At 332 pounds, she was headed toward a dangerous health decline. Gash was a borderline diabetic and knew it was time for her to lose weight.

"I went home for lunch one day and watched Channel 18 news, and they were talking about a surgeon who did this surgery. He was giving a seminar at the Marriot (hotel) in Lexington that night. I went back to work, and I couldn't get it off my mind. I had never thought about this type of surgery," said Gash.

"By the time I left the seminar, I knew I was going to have this done."

As part of a growing trend, Gash turned to stomach surgery to slim down.

Until recently, stomach alterations took hours of surgery and large incisions.

Gash was able to have a less invasive form of stomach surgery, called laparoscopic bariatric surgery.

"Your stomach goes from a football size to the size of an egg," explained Gash.

During the procedure, surgeons with the Bariatric Center at Georgetown Community Hospital use small cameras and strategically placed, small incisions to operate on the stomach.

They create a small pocket out of the top portion of the patient's stomach, staple the bottom of it closed and attach the small intestine to the new pouch. The remaining portion of the organ stays in the patient.

"We're the only 100 percent minimally invasive center in central Kentucky," said Lynn Jones, Georgetown Community Hospital marketing director. "It's a safety issue; it reduces the risk."

"There are very few centers in the country that do laparoscopic surgery," said Georgetown surgeon Dr. Derek Weiss. "We've taking out all the risk."

Though the choice to participate was an unexpected decision, said Gash, she was reassured by the staff and her experiences at Georgetown hospital.

"The whole hospital is geared for large people, like the chairs in the waiting room," said Gash. "... So far they (the surgeons) haven't lost anyone."

Surgeons Weiss and John Oldham took only an hour and a half to complete the procedure. Weiss said the hospital has been repeating the operation up to six times a day, and on average performs roughly 10 to 15 a week.

Gash said her own choice to go under the knife was well worth it, at a bargain price of $1,000. Her insurance picked up the remaining $19,000 bill, due to her weight's impending health risks.

"Actually, I couldn't afford to pass it up," she said.

As the pounds drop, Gash has posted her running weight loss total outside her office door, just so she doesn't have to repeat herself as much, she said.

"I'm enjoying all the comments from people who are wondering how much I've lost," she said.

Throughout the process, Gash's family was supportive.

"There's been some concerns, but overall they're thrilled," she said.

Now Gash takes vitamins to supplement her reduced diet. She watches the portions of food she eats and is still staying away from red meat to take it easy on her healing stomach. She is happy to be losing weight.

"It's been a gift, and I think it's been a gift from God. It's really a blessing," said Gash. "I wish I had had it done when I was younger. My children have never seen me thin, my husband married me large. I don't want to be a model, I just want to be normal."

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