‘It changed my life:’ Casper woman loses 90 pounds after weight-loss surgery

Liz Kellch, 57, recently attended a holiday party with former co-workers she hadn’t seen in several years. They didn’t even recognize her.

“It was so weird. I was waving at an old friend, and she introduced herself to me. When I told her who I was, she said, ‘Oh my god.’ It was like that the whole night,” said Kellch who lost 90 pounds after undergoing weight-loss surgery at Wyoming Medical Center.

“Inside, I haven’t changed at all. I am still me, but people often say, ‘Wow! You look so great.’ All those compliments are pretty awesome actually.”

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Wyoming Medical Center’s weight-loss surgery program has helped patients lose more than 20,000 pounds, and we are the only hospital accredited center for bariatric surgery in the state. On our road to becoming a certified Center of Excellence, we have been accredited as a Comprehensive Bariatric Center under the Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Accreditation and Quality Improvement Program.

For Kellch, the compliments are a happy side effect of her long journey of weight loss. Her health and her grandkids were the reasons she made the decision to undergo bariatric surgery. Read more about her story in the interview below.

WHEN DID YOU HAVE YOUR SURGERY?

I had the surgery May 7, 2018.  I started the process in November of last year.

WHAT WAS THE TRIGGER FOR YOU, SO TO SPEAK? WHAT MADE YOU START THINKING ABOUT IT?

I was struggling with a lot of hip pain and knee pain. I went to see a knee surgeon and he referred me to go see Dr. Helling.

I also had a lot of other health issues.  I have had breast cancer and kidney cancer. I’ve had my gallbladder removed.  I was being treated for high blood pressure, and pre-diabetes.

WHAT DID THE SURGEON SAY TO YOU?

Oh, the same thing doctors have told me all these years: “Lose weight and it will help with your pain.” And I always said to myself, “Yeah right.” 

Prior to that, in January/February 2017, my mom was sick. We thought she was going to die.  She had a lot of health issues – diabetes, you name it she had it.  I got to really thinking about health, you know, and how bad I was struggling with my knees and joints. I just saw myself going down my mom’s path, and I was just kind of scared. 

I told the knee surgeon, “Well, I have been thinking about it, and I guess it is worth a try going to see Dr. Helling.”

Liz Kellch is pictured at her son’s wedding before losing 90 pounds.

HAD YOU TRIED TO LOSE WEIGHT BEFORE?

Oh yeah many times.  I lost weight and gained more weight back with lots of different diets. I’ve tried everything from Weight Watchers to fen-phen a long time ago. I lost quite a bit of weight on a couple of diets, but I ended up a lot heavier than when I started.

WHEN DID WEIGHT BECOME A STRUGGLE FOR YOU?

Moreso after I had my kids back in the ‘80s, but it has always been a struggle.  Even when I was in high school, I can remember doing those crazy fad diets where I wouldn’t eat anything for a few days just to lose a few pounds.

EXPLAIN THE PROCESS FOR PREPARING FOR BARIATRIC SURGERY?

I made an appointment with Dr. Helling, but before he would see me I had to go to his informational seminar.  One of my grandkid’s mom had the weight loss surgery a while ago and she had a lot of success with that. So, I thought about it off and on for years really.  I just didn’t know if I really wanted to do that. 

When I went to that seminar, I guess I thought, “Yeah, this is what I need to do.”  I just felt like nothing else had helped.

AND WHAT ABOUT AFTER YOUR FIRST APPOINTMENT?

Once I got to see Dr. Helling, then I had to complete all these steps to make sure I was ready and committed.  I had to have a mental health evaluation.  I had to start a diet program and go see the dietitian.  I had to start watching what I was eating, following what they said and start exercising.  I joined the YMCA and did their swim exercises. 

Normally, you have to have an endoscopy before weight-loss surgery, but I had an endoscopy a couple months before my first appointment. I had been on acid reflux medication since 2008, and I’ve had to have an endoscopy every two years since then. I had medication that I had to take twice a day because it was so bad.  I don’t take that medication anymore.

WAS THERE SOMETHING ABOUT DR. HELLING THAT MADE IT EASIER?

He is such a kind person.  When I was in the seminar, he talked about how he followed his patients through the journey, how he really cared about it.  You can feel his compassion when you walk in his office.  You know, he is just there for you and he will spend the time with you. 

WHAT DO YOU EAT NOW?

I am really trying to watch what I eat, and I definitely don’t eat as much, but I am starting to be able to eat the things that I couldn’t before.

HAVE YOUR OTHER HEALTH CONCERNS IMPROVED SINCE LOSING THE WEIGHT?

As far as health, I lived on Ibuprofen since my knees and hips were very painful. At times I also needed pain meds. Since my surgery I no longer have the daily pain. The only thing I take is my tamoxifen, and that is because of the breast cancer I had previously. 

THIS MIGHT SOUND LIKE A WEIRD QUESTION, BUT WHAT DID YOU HAVE TO BE HEALTHY FOR?

Well, my family basically.  I want to keep up with my grandkids and be here for them.

HOW MANY GRANDKIDS DO YOU HAVE?

Five. 

My mom was so sick that she didn’t want to do anything really.  My dad was a 24-hour caregiver, and I just didn’t want to do that.  So, it was the little things that made me want to change. Not just the big things, but the little things.

LIKE WHAT LITTLE THINGS?

Just recently we went on a trip to Atlanta, and I could wear an airplane seatbelt without an extension. I could walk. It wasn’t a problem walking clear across the airport, and I think we had some 60 gates we had to go past. I wasn’t even out of breath. I went with a bunch of younger co-workers, people in their 20s and younger than my own kids, and I could keep up with them all.

We just moved into another house, but we used to have stairs that I could hardly get up and down, you know.  Before, I would come visit friends at the hospital and I would take the elevator all the time. I don’t do that anymore. 

I am a school counselor and social worker at Evansville Elementary, and I work with kids from kindergarten to fifth-grade. I would go in a classroom and I would get down in those little chairs, and I couldn’t get out of them.  I would have to have help. Now I don’t have that problem.  I actually got down on the floor and was reading to some kids the other day, and I used to avoid that because it’s embarrassing if  you can’t get up.  I can get up now. 

So it is a lot of little things.

WHY DID YOU WANT TO SHARE YOUR STORY?

I want to help inform others who may be thinking of going through this process. You know, I guess I had in my brain that surgery was a kind of quick fix, but it’s not an easy process at all.  I would almost say that I had to do way more work than I have ever had to do before without this.  I still have to continue to watch what I eat, but it was so worth it.  It changed my life.

Also, the weight loss gave me more confidence in myself. I am so happy I made this choice to have the surgery. I am just really proud of myself, and I know that I will be around a lot longer.

FREE SEMINAR

Bariatric surgeon Kevin Helling, M.D., leads a free weight-loss seminar each month to explain the surgical options at Wyoming Medical Center.  To register, click here or call (307) 577-4220. 

Dr. Helling is a board-certified general surgeon with a fellowship in advanced laparoscopy and weight-loss surgery at Harvard University. He is medical director of Wyoming Medical Center’s bariatric surgery program. Read more about Dr. Helling here. 

Liz Kellch, 57, lost 90 pounds after undergoing weight-loss surgery at Wyoming Medical Center. ‘The weight loss gave me more confidence in myself. I am so happy I made this choice; I am just really proud of myself.’