Kansas native Dr. Jennifer McAllaster, general and bariatric surgeon, has a unique perspective on the bariatric program at The University of Kansas Health System St. Francis Campus. Not only is she a long-time surgeon, she is a patient herself. We sat down with her to get a better understanding of how she became a bariatric surgeon and how having the surgery changed her life.
“I love the field of general surgery and the variety of what can be done,” said Dr. McAllaster. “Bariatric surgery was very different from everything I was doing in general surgery. With general surgery, you are able to fix the problem for the patient which is wonderful, but you usually don’t see that patient long-term. What really sparked my interest in bariatric surgery was the difference we can make in someone’s life and seeing those patients navigate through their post-surgery life. Watching them do things they weren’t able to do before surgery and seeing how they are successfully using this new weight loss tool is very rewarding and I knew it was something I wanted to practice.”
Seeing change in patients’ lives is incredibly inspiring to Dr. McAllaster. “We have the monthly seminars where potential patients can learn more about bariatric surgery,” said Dr. McAllaster. “One of the great parts about this is that our post-surgery support group meets at the same time. At the end of the support group meetings, the post-operative patients go over and talk to the potential new patients. I believe that is an incredible resource and extremely rewarding for them. They are able to tell their stories and share all of the things they can now do that they weren’t able to do before having the surgery. There are parents who didn’t have the energy levels to be active with their children and grandparents who are now able to take their grandchildren to an amusement park without being concerned about weight restrictions on rides. It’s so inspiring to see how people have been able to get their lives back and gain control over the disease of obesity.”
Dr. McAllaster and her colleagues work closely with bariatric patients on a long-term basis. “We have a lot of follow up with them,” said Dr. McAllaster. “We want to see their progress throughout their lives. In our program, we are all in this together – the patients and the surgeons. We like to coach them through the process and help them achieve as much success as they can.”
Being a bariatric patient herself, Dr. McAllaster has the upmost confidence in the bariatric program at The University of Kansas Health System St. Francis Campus. “We have been doing bariatric operations here since 2002,” said Dr. McAllaster. “We have a really great and well-ran program in place. I had bariatric surgery here two years ago and my partners were my surgeons. There’s no way I would have chosen to go anywhere else because I knew I was in the most skilled hands.”
Dr. McAllaster wants everyone to know that having bariatric surgery is not taking the easy way out. “Having this type of surgery is certainly not an easy choice,” said Dr. McAllaster. “Choosing to have any kind of operation can be scary. Bariatric surgery is a tool that patients use to get back to a healthy weight. It’s not magic and it is most certainly not easy. Patients have to work with this tool in order for this tool to work for them. It takes an entire lifestyle change of focusing on being healthy. This means seeking out healthy foods, learning new ways to cook and shop and learning about appropriate portion sizes. Exercise also has to be incorporated into that new routine. Bariatric surgery will get you on the right track, but the lifestyle changes have to come along with it. It’s the first step in a long journey.”
Setting realistic expectations is something Dr. McAllaster encourages all of her patients to do. “This is a lifelong journey,” said Dr. McAllaster. “It’s not just having the surgery and then you’re done. You have to make your health a priority to maintain success. It’s a fresh start and a new approach to life, but it requires a lot of work.”
Dr. McAllaster has developed successful practices of her own during her bariatric journey. “I realized that everything I was doing before surgery just wasn’t working,” said Dr. McAllaster. “Making those lifestyle changes was what I really focused on. I always tell my patients that just like bad habits add up, good habits add up too. I always park at the back of a parking lot now so I will be walking extra and I make myself take the stairs regardless of where I’m going. It’s been amazing to see how much more activity I can get in on a daily basis when I make those small changes. Making exercise a part of my life was not easy at first. In fact, it was a lot of work. After a few weeks of exercising, I could really tell a difference because I felt so much better after exercising. I found activities that I really enjoyed which kept it interesting.”
Planning is also something that Dr. McAllaster has found to be beneficial throughout her experience. “I do meal planning twice a week so I have my meals ready for each day,” said Dr. McAllaster. “When I meal plan, I know that I won’t have an opportunity to make bad choices when I’m tired and hungry because a meal is already prepared. This process is different for everyone. You really have to take a look at yourself. Are you an emotional eater? Are you eating poorly when you are tired? If yes, try to figure out creative ways to adapt to life after surgery and to find more healthy habits.”
If you are interested in bariatric surgery, Dr. McAllaster recommends attending a free informational seminar. “Our free weight loss seminars are held once a month at The University of Kansas Health System St. Francis Campus,” said Dr. McAllaster. “Online seminars are also available for individuals that cannot attend in person.”
For additional information about the bariatric program at The University of Kansas Health System St. Francis Campus, please call (785) 228-4773 to speak with our bariatric nurse or coordinator or visit kutopeka.com/bariatrics.