Learning To Walk Again After Gastric Bypass Complications

Meet Melissa Gilliam, AKA: Missy. This 33-year-old Lauren’s Hope customer lives in Pell City, Alabama with her husband of 15 years, Danny, and their many beloved pets. Missy wrote in to us recently to talk about her experience with gastric bypass surgery, a complicated ordeal that left this engaging blogger on disability, wheelchair-bound, and unsure if she would walk again.

The Long Road To Health

Gastric Bypass surgery

Just over a year ago I could not walk. My gastric bypass did not go as most surgeries do. My husband Danny had his gastric bypass first, and he sailed through with flying colors. By the time I had my surgery, our insurance had changed and our new insurance paid for a new procedure called the gastric sleeve. My doctor, who was not the doctor that did Danny’s surgery, recommended this newer surgery because it was safer. I took this advice, and on March 9, 2011, I had my surgery.

Gastric Sleeve Diagram

I have always seemed to be a magnet for complications, and this was no different. The gastric sleeve cuts off the greater curvature of your stomach so your stomach is now the size of a banana. Great for weight loss… smaller stomach, less food, but the SAME amount of stomach acid being produced. Most patients can control this acid with medication; I however, could not. My acid reflux was so severe that I could not eat anything at all. The burning pain in my stomach and throat was torturous. After several weeks, my doctor said the only way to remedy this problem was to revert my surgery to a gastric bypass.

I had the revision surgery, which led to further complications. I developed strictures, which is scar tissue where my esophagus is connected to my new stomach pouch. The scar tissue caused all food I ate to come back up. Because I could not eat, I started getting weaker and weaker. I was in and out of the hospital for several weeks, going in to get re-hydrated and then coming back out with no solutions and still with no way to eat. I proceeded to get weaker and weaker until the end of May when my legs literally gave out and I could no longer support my own weight, my legs and feet numb and tingling with pain constantly.

I began my “long stay” in the hospital in June. After a couple of weeks on a regular floor, I was transferred to a floor called “Easy Street.” I love the irony of the name because nothing about being there was easy. This was the physical rehab floor, and I had physical therapy twice a day, every day. All the while, I was being experimented on to try to come to some conclusion as to what was causing my condition. I had my entire body MRI’ed, two spinal taps, a muscle and nerve biopsy, and more blood drawn than I can remember. In the end, it was concluded that the cause of my neuropathy was nutritional. I had a PICC line (peripherally inserted central catheter) placed and began TPN (IV nutrition).

I received my TPN 24 hours a day. It gave me all my nutrition and vitamins. I had to have pain meds every four hours because the pain in my legs was so intense. Physical therapy was terrifying and grueling. I was fitted with special leg braces, which I fondly call my “magic shoes” (thank you, Forest Gump). I remember the first time my therapist stood me up. I rolled with my wheelchair inside a set of parallel bars. I had one therapist behind me, one in front of me, and one on either side. I stood up, legs and arms shaking, tears streaming down my face and took maybe three or four steps. It was agonizing. I had electric stimulation on my legs to try to wake up the nerves that had been so badly damaged by malnutrition. My days consisted of therapy during the day, sleeping, and very lonely nights in the hospital.

My mother came every single day to see me, even though most of her time was either spent alone in my room while I was in therapy, or watching me sleep when I was in my room. I cried many, many days when she left. I was put on an antidepressant. Danny came on the weekends to see me. It was just not feasible for him to come much during the week with him working overtime and trying to take care of our cats. I was so lonely; I cannot remember ever being so lonely in my whole life. My dog Harley had to go live with my parents because he was depressed with me gone. I remember one day my dad brought him to the hospital. My mom wheeled me outside and I saw him as my dad pulled up; I thought he was going to jump through the window to get to me. That was a good day.

It was the end of July when my insurance company kicked me out of the hospital. By that time I could walk a little way with a heavy duty walker, but I was still pretty much stuck in a wheelchair. I had to go to my parents’ house because I could not be alone during the day, and my house was not big enough to accommodate my wheelchair. I also had to have help with my TPN solution since I was still getting it 24 hours a day. I had to have someone mix the additives into the bags and help me flush and clean my lines.

Over the next months, I continued outpatient physical therapy at the hospital here. My TPN was slowly tapered down from 24 hours, to 18, then 16, then 12, and finally it was Ok’ed to be taken out. I still see my nutrition doctor regularly, and he monitors my nutrition levels closely. I worked very hard in therapy and gradually went from my wheelchair, to a walker, to a cane, to just my braces, and now I walk without my braces.

In order to help me walk more normally again, I had to have a procedure done called a Strayer procedure to lengthen my Achilles tendons because I had such severe foot drop that my tendons had drawn up so tight that I could not stand with my heels touching the ground. That surgery caused me to have to walk in very heavy walking boots that kept my feet at a 45-degree angle so my tendons could heal in a stretched position. That procedure actually helped resolve a lot of pain for me because the constant stretching every time I put my foot on the floor was awful.

After recovering from the Strayer surgery, I got up to walk to the kitchen and had a bad fall and ended up breaking my right ankle in two places, which led to surgery to repair the damage. This was a huge setback for me. I had to go back into a wheelchair for eight weeks. This was very emotionally hard because I had gotten to where I did not have to use it anymore. Once I got out of the wheelchair, I was back in physical therapy for a few weeks. During that time, I actually got my PICC line out as well. This was a banner day for us, as Mom was really tired of mixing those bags and I was tired of having to be home at a certain time to hook up to my own special “go go juice.” (I know, I know, sorry for the Honey Boo Boo reference).

I now walk mostly normally, though I still have a discernible limp as my right side is still weaker than my left. I still have neuropathy and pain in my feet, which I manage with medication. I take tons of vitamins every day and see my nutrition doctor ever couple of months. I am not “normal” by any means, but I can walk and that is an absolute blessing.

On Wearing Medical Alert Jewelry For The Past Two Years

Lauren's Hope Twice-As-Nice Medical ID Bracelet

I wear a medical ID because I have had gastric bypass surgery. It is very important that in an emergency those gastric bypass patients do not receive a blind NG tube. Our stomachs are now a tiny pouch and shaped much differently than a “normal” stomach. Inserting an NG tube blindly can damage that pouch. I also want to limit my exposure to NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs), because they can cause ulcers.

My first medical ID was a Lauren’s Hope ID, and I do not wear anything else! I love my Twice as Nice bracelet and my Oval Filigree tag. That is the combination I wear most often. I am DYING to get the Antique Gate bracelet because it matches my Oval Filigree tag perfectly! That bracelet came out after I ordered my last bracelet. I also LOVE the Knotty Girl bracelet. My family is Irish, and I collect Irish-themed jewelry, so that is going to be a must have for me. I also love the Dancing Zebra bracelet, as I LOVE animal print anything!

All That Jazz Medical Alert Bracelet From Lauren's Hope

When I want to “dress up” a bit, I wear my All that Jazz bracelet. I also have the sterling silver Small Silver Chain bracelet that I switch out to as an everyday bracelet. I have also turned my family on to Lauren’s Hope products, and my father wears the Red Mini dog tag, and my husband wears the Black dog tag.

What I like best is the versatility of the products. Being able to change bracelets and tags helps it feel more like a fashion statement then a cold, boring medical ID bracelet. The quality of the products is also phenomenal. Everywhere I go I get compliments on my bracelets, and I give out the Lauren’s Hope website address to so many people. Just because we have to wear medical jewelry does not mean we still do not want to be fashionable, and Lauren’s hope addresses that like no other medical jewelry company, and trust me I scoured the Internet before I bought my first bracelet. Nothing compared to Lauren’s Hope.

I use my bracelet at restaurants in order to be able to order smaller portions or meals from the kids menu. A lot of gastric bypass patients have a wallet card that they use for restaurants, but I can just flip over my ID and that works much easier than digging in my wallet for my card.

Engraveable Medical ID Tag From Lauren's Hope

A Little Advice From Missy

First, despite my ordeal, I am still a proponent of gastric bypass surgery. What happened to me was an extremely rare complication. My husband had the surgery and lost 200 pounds; it has totally changed his life for the better. My father had his surgery after mine and has also done extremely well. It is a life-saving, life changing surgery, and fear of what MAY happen should never be a motivator. For a lot of people, this is the only way they will be able to lose enough weight to have the life they deserve, and I would never tell someone to not have the surgery based upon what happened to me.

Secondly, my advice is to ALWAYS listen to your body and that voice inside your head that tells you something is wrong, I knew something was not right with me, that the several times I was in and out of the hospital to be re-hydrated was not enough, something else was very WRONG. I think if I had been more insistent, maybe my doctor might have put me in the hospital for further tests sooner. Maybe if I would have started TPN sooner, I would not have ended up in a wheelchair. Who knows? Hindsight is 20/20, but if you ever feel like something is wrong with your body, never hesitate to be your own advocate, even if the doctor wants to fight you. You know your body best, so do not give up!

Not sure what to engrave on your gastric bypass medical alert bracelet? Have questions about resizing your medical ID bracelet after weight loss? Lauren’s Hope is here to help!

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