West Plains couple are first weight-loss surgeries at OMC; working with Dr. Aaron Newton at the Gainesville clinic


John and Nicole Smith of West Plains are obsessed withMy 600-Pound Life, a reality show where each episode follows a year in the life of a morbidly obese person. Together, John and Nicole weighed 615 pounds at the beginning of their weight-loss journey last year, with Nicole weighing in at 275 and John at 340. The couple knew they could not reach their weight-loss goals alone, and they sought help from Dr. Magdy Giurgius, a board-certified bariatric surgeon at Ozarks Medical Center Surgical Specialists Clinic in West Plains. They are also being treated during their weight-loss journey by Dr. Aaron Newton at OMC’s Gainesville Medical Clinic.

John’s weight-loss goal is fueled by his need for ankle surgery. Born with a birth defect of an extra tendon in his foot, he had surgery when he was young to remove the tendon and reset the foot. The surgery didn’t repair the problem, and he soon began walking on the side of his foot. A few more surgeries, with metal bracket and screws put in, and he was still in severe pain when walking. He met with an ankle surgeon in Springfield and was told he weighed too much for the surgery to be a success. John was referred to a pain-management clinic, and it appeared that his only option was to be on pain medication the rest of his life.

“I decided I wasn’t going to settle for that,’” John said. “… I wanted to get off the pain meds, get back to a real life, and be able to run with my son.”

John and Nicole’s son, Zackary, is a motivator for them both. “We want to be healthy, not only for our sake, but for Zack’s, too,” Nicole said. “We are planning to drive down to Mammoth Spring to walk around the park with him. That is something we would have never considered before.”

After the initial visit with Dr. Giurgius, John and Nicole began their treatment plan prior to their gastric-sleeve surgery. John started his appointments with Dr. Newton, a primary care doctor at the Gainesville clinic, in January 2016. Nicole soon followed and began seeing Dr. Newton in April 2016. They both met with Dr. Newton monthly to weigh in, visit about their progress or work to figure out what went wrong if they didn’t lose weight for the month. They also had preoperative appointments with OMC dietician Chris Henson, OMC physical therapist Josh Drummond, OMC bariatric coordinator Jennifer Crockarell and OMC psychologist Dr. Jennifer Long.

“When I couldn’t break the 300-pound mark, Dr. Newton took the time to talk to me to find out what was working and what wasn’t. He got me back on track,” John said.

During Dr. Newton’s care prior to surgery, John lost 63 pounds, and Nicole lost 49 pounds. The monthly visits, weigh-ins and treatment plan were documented for insurance purposes, and in both cases, insurance covered their visits and their weight-loss surgery.

“This is not an easy fix. This is a lifestyle change. We changed to a low-carb, low-calorie diet,” Nicole said. 

“It’s a mind thing. You have to set yourself up to win and not fail,” John added. 

John and Nicole both stressed that keeping a food journal is important. “It keeps you accountable,” Nicole said. They use the phone app My Fitness Pal to log their meals.

Dr. Giurgius performed Nicole’s gastric sleeve surgery this year on Jan. 25 and John’s on Feb. 1. Gastric-sleeve surgery consists of creating a small, sleeve-shaped stomach about the size of a banana during a laparoscopic surgery. Weight loss occurs because the procedure causes the stomach to tolerate a limited amount of food, causing the feeling of fullness more quickly. 

Nicole had her surgery on a Wednesday and was back to work on Friday. “By Sunday, I was able to move perfectly fine, but it took about a week and a half to not have any pain when doing movements that required using my stomach muscles,” Nicole said.

John’s recovery was a little more difficult. “It was about a week before I was getting around. I did make myself get up and walk when I felt bloated or sick to my stomach,” John said.

“It definitely helps having your partner go through this with you,” John said. “You need a strong support system, and we had one with each other. For those who don’t, we created a Facebook group so we can help others who are considering gastric sleeve surgery,” Nicole said. (On Facebook search for “West Plains Gastric Sleeve Journey.”)

The couple still has a way to go in meeting their goals. Nicole’s goal weight is 140 to 160 pounds, and John’s goal weight is 180 to 200 pounds. “It’s not an easy journey,” Nicole said. “But we have a wonderful support system with Dr. Giurgius, Dr. Newton and Chris Henson.” 

That support continues for John and Nicole until they reach their weight loss goal and beyond. They will have follow-up appointments with the bariatric surgery team that include continuous monitoring of weight loss, nutrition counseling, adherence to vitamin intake and daily exercise and activities.

“You know you’ve cured yourself when you can drive through McDonald’s and buy your son a kid’s meal and not order anything for yourself,” John said. 

For more information about gastric-sleeve surgery at OMC Surgical Specialist Clinic at 417-256-1774.

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West Plains couple are first weight-loss surgeries at OMC; working with Dr. Aaron Newton at the Gainesville clinic

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