From Fort Sanders Regional Health & Lifestyles

In the last 18 months, Debra Hinson, 50, has lost nearly 100 pounds. The Sevierville resident said she has revamped not only her body, but her mind and spirit as well.Debi Henson_DRD6091

“I have been on every diet that you can possibly think of my whole life,” Hinson said. “Grapefruit diet, cabbage soup. But nothing worked for long. “I have always been heavy. My family is heavy. I’ve tried cutting my food in half, diet plans and programs, Fen-Phen, just about anything,” she said. “At one point I was up to 267 pounds.”

Facing sleep problems, depression, arthritis and a very high body mass index, Hinson turned to Jonathan H. Ray, MD, with Foothills Weight Loss Specialists, and a surgeon at the Center for Bariatric Surgery at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center in Knoxville.

After reviewing her case, Dr. Ray recommended sleeve gastrectomy, a minimally invasive weight loss procedure in which the stomach is reduced to about 25 percent of its original size. The remaining stomach, instead of being kidney-shaped, is shaped more like a tube or sleeve. The surgery is performed with laparoscopic instruments, typically through five small incisions in the abdomen.

“The sleeve gastrectomy is the most common weight loss operation performed in the world,” said Dr. Ray. “It’s a less complex operation with lower risks and costs, providing near comparable weight loss and improvement or resolution of co-morbid conditions as compared to more complex procedures. This is very attractive to most patients.”

He performed Hinson’s procedure in September 2014. Dr. Ray said most patients lose a significant amount of weight and keep it off with a sleeve gastrectomy.  “They can do well with surgery if they will change their living habits. They need to become accountable and more active, eat better and exercise,” he said.

And that’s what Hinson has done. Always an exerciser and runner, she still runs three or four days each week.

“I have a love-hate relationship with running,” she said with a laugh. “I started running before the surgery, and I actually ran the Covenant Half Marathon in 2011 at 225 pounds. It took me three hours and 30 minutes to run it. I ran the full marathon before surgery, too. It took me six hours and 19 minutes. So now I’m working up to running the marathon again at a lower weight.”

She added that her eating habits have undergone the biggest change. “Portion control has been an issue. Now I don’t have a choice,” she said. “Once you have this surgery your portion control is made for you. If I eat more than I should, I’ll be sick.”

Hinson eats a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet. For breakfast she might have a whole-wheat English muffin with turkey bacon and ham. For lunch she has a chicken breast or tuna and a salad. And dinner? She plans that out ahead of time.

“Tonight it’s salmon, quinoa and sautéed spinach,” she said. “Food preparation, that’s a big thing. Planning your meals is a big, big help. I shop and plan for the week, and planning is your success. This is not just a diet; it’s a lifestyle change, and to be successful you have to plan.”

Hinson acknowledges the weight could come back if she overeats, because her stomach could enlarge again. “I could graze all day and gain the weight back, or I can eat the way I should eat. My choice is to eat the right way,” she said.

Most patients, Dr. Ray said, are successful in their weight loss goals. “The majority of patients, can keep off the weight long-term if they adhere to the proper bariatric diet, adequate exercise, attend support groups and regular follow up visits,” said Dr. Ray.

He noted that a benefit of the surgery is its positive effect on chronic health conditions.

“Most patients having this surgery have chronic health conditions. Type II diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, obstructive sleep apnea  usually markedly improve or resolve following weight loss surgery. This results in a reduced number of medications needed as well as in substantial savings on the cost of medications.

“ Less than one percent of patients have any major complications, and most people go home within 36 hours of surgery. Most only have mild discomfort following the surgery and by one week start a healthy bariatric diet,” Dr. Ray said.

“Our biggest thing is, if you’re ready to make a change and ready to make a commitment, you can do fine. If you’re ready to live it out and be supported by other patients who have walked the walk, you can do it. Our  commitment to you is that we will be with you through your entire journey and for the rest of your life.”

The Center for Bariatric Surgery offers a number of support groups for patients after their bariatric surgery. Hinson attends a monthly group at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center.

“I go to a monthly support group,” said Hinson. “It’s always informational. They ask whether you’re having problems or pain, and we swap recipes. This month they went shopping to read food labels, which is great. It’s always a learning process.”

Hinson said her sleep problems have resolved, and she no longer struggles with depression.

“I’m within 27 pounds of my goal weight, and I’m still working on it,” she said. “I think when you go on a diet and it works for awhile, and then it doesn’t work and you fail, that brings you down. Since I had ‘the sleeve’ and have lost the weight, my self-esteem has come up. I’m not taking antidepressants. I feel better all around.”

Hinson said she would recommend Dr. Ray and his staff to anyone thinking about bariatric surgery.

“I have recommended Dr. Ray to anyone who has come to me and said they were interested. He is the most inspirational and compassionate man. His bedside manner is great, and he’s a friend. He puts himself in your shoes. He’s truly there with you.

“I would do the surgery again in a heartbeat,” she added. “All I can say is, it’s a blessing and I’m glad I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Ray. He’s great and this has been a godsend for me. I know I’ll have many more years to go with what he has given to me.”

To learn if you’re a candidate for bariatric surgery with Foothills Weight Loss Specialists, call (865) 984-3413 or visit