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Summoning the Courage to Launch a Military Career

Jamie RickardsAt the age of 19, Jamie Rickards made the courageous decision to undergo a major surgical procedure to treat the serious childhood disease she was literally carrying into adulthood – obesity. Her first big decision as a young adult changed the course of Jamie’s life.

It’s been two years since Jamie’s successful bariatric surgery at Abington Hospital’s Institute for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (IMBS). The teenager who struggled to breathe when exercising has transformed herself into a healthy, physically fit young woman, determined to achieve her goal of joining the U.S. Army.

Like Jamie, a growing number of young Americans diagnosed with obesity are choosing to undergo weight-loss surgery. “Research has shown that bariatric surgery is safe in teens and young adults,” said Bariatric Surgeon Kristin Noonan, MD, Abington Hospital – Jefferson Health, who performed Jamie’s surgery. “It allows us to prevent obesity-related medical problems before they occur, rather than chasing them after the patient has already been impacted.”

For Jamie, obesity-related medical issues had already begun to surface by the time she was 18. She was experiencing knee and hip pain, which doctors attributed to her weight. Jamie was also concerned about her family history of diabetes and cancer – both of which also are associated with obesity. “Part of my decision to have weight-loss surgery now was to avoid having to undergo other surgeries and treatments related to complications of obesity in the future,” said Jamie.

Family Ties

By the age of 17, Jamie realized her lifelong vision of pursuing a career in the U.S. Army would never become a reality unless she lost weight. Her career ambition had been fueled partly by family tradition – her grandparents and uncle had served in the military. “The desire to join the Army lingered, even though it was not a reality based on my health at that time,” said the Oakford resident.

Ironically, family ties of another sort most likely played a role in hindering Jamie’s career plans. Jamie was at higher risk for childhood obesity, based on genetics – a factor over which she has no control. “Reviewing research, we know that the likelihood of childhood obesity increases if one or both parents are obese,” said Dr. Noonan. In addition to Jamie’s mother, other family members had also been diagnosed with obesity or as being overweight.

Although Jamie was anxious about undergoing surgery, she could not have asked for a better support system than the one she found at home. In fact, both Jamie’s mother and aunt had undergone successful surgical weight-loss procedures at Abington Hospital’s Institute for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. “I knew some of what to expect because I had seen what my mom and aunt had gone through,” said Jamie. “That included the hard work after surgery, and their success in keeping the weight off.”

With her family’s encouragement, Jamie participated in the comprehensive screening and education programs at the IMBS, and met with Dr. Noonan to discuss her surgical options. Together, they decided Jaime was a good candidate for vertical sleeve gastrectomy (VSG).

Vertical Sleeve Gastrectomy

This surgical procedure restricts the volume of the top portion of the stomach, so the patient feels full after eating a small amount of food. In addition, VSG involves removing a large portion of the stomach, resulting in a decrease in ghrelin (the hormone that stimulates hunger), so patients feel less hungry. Jamie understood surgery was one of many tools that could help her to lose weight, but she’d need to work the rest of her life to make sure surgery worked for her.

Forward, March!

Today Jamie is waiting for medical clearance to take the next step toward a military career. She works full time, hangs out with friends and stays focused on healthful nutrition. Since losing 143 pounds, Jamie no longer has joint pain and is more physically active than ever before. She said it’s the little things she can do now that seem to be most meaningful to her. For example, during her summer vacation, for the first time, Jamie was able to fit in the seats of the amusement park rides on the boardwalk. “That was a little thing, but a big moment,” she said.

“Dr. Noonan and the entire team at Abington walked me through every step of this journey,” said Jamie. “I’m so grateful for the role they continue to play in keeping me motivated and healthy.”

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