Over a four-year period, Ronnie Burbank gained about 100 pounds as he endured multiple cancer treatments and recovered from colorectal cancer.
"As I got heavier it started creating physical issues,” Burbank said. "I had multiple hernias in my abdominal region.”
Burbank, a 59-year-old banker and Vice President of Commercial Lending at United Bank in Wilmington, said his health issues combined with other life stressors at the time took a toll on him. “It was a tough time for me,” he said. “So, I got myself in pretty bad shape physically and mentally.”
A Need for Change
As his weight hindered his ability to have needed treatment for the hernia, Burbank said he realized something needed to change. “I started giving some consideration to bariatric surgery back in 2011,” he said. “The heavier I got, the worse the hernia got, and there was no way for my doctors at Duke to repair it because being that heavy the treatment wouldn’t take. It would just continue to pull down and tear the muscle. So, my doctors suggested ‘hey you lose the weight and come back to see us, and we’ll see what we can do.’”
Burbank said he tried to lose the weight and get back in shape on his own to avoid surgery but was unsuccessful. “At 50 plus years of age that became problematic,” he said. “There was simply no way to do it, and my weight continued to hover around 300 pounds."
In 2017, Burbank met with New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s Dr. W. Borden Hooks, III, MD, FACS, a specialist in General Surgery, Bariatric Surgery and Robotic Surgery. Dr. Hooks helped Burbank start his successful weight loss journey. “We got together at his office and started exploring the possibility of surgery,” Burbank said. “I decided at that point that I wanted to have a better quality of life for the rest of my days on the planet.”
Burbank underwent the sleeve gastrectomy surgery in October 2017 and lost over 100 pounds. “In all candor, Dr. Hooks changed my life, and I think he may have saved my life,” Burbank said. “I believe he added 10 years to my life by doing what we did. He’s been unbelievably fantastic throughout this entire process.”
“Generally, bariatric and metabolic surgery are for people who have a BMI (Body Mass Index) over 40 or a BMI over 35 with certain medical conditions like diabetes,” Dr. Hooks said.
Dr. Hooks said the bariatric surgeries offered at NHRMC have helped patients lose significant amounts of weight. “If a healthy lifestyle is continued then the weight loss has been shown to last a long time and can last their lifetime,” Dr. Hooks said. “The main two procedures we do here are the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass and sleeve gastrectomy. Sleeve gastrectomy is a procedure where we remove approximately two-thirds of the stomach, creating a long narrow sleeve.”
The new, much smaller stomach left after the procedure limits the amount of food individuals can eat and makes individuals feel full after eating small amounts of food.
This restrictive surgical weight-loss procedure is typically performed laparoscopically, which involves inserting a thin tube with a tiny camera through small incisions in the abdomen.
Burbank said since the surgery he has been able to be more active. He walks, runs, swims and enjoys hiking. “At 300 pounds I’m not hiking eight miles in the mountains. I do that all of the time now,” he said. “Physically it changed everything about my life. My blood pressure went down, I stopped taking medication, no cholesterol issues—from a health standpoint there’s vast improvement. It's not just looking better, but it’s also feeling better and there’s mental clarity. I have a job that’s high stress, and I’m able to handle that so much differently now than four years ago.”
After the surgery, Dr. Hooks noted that Burbank adopted a new way of thinking about food and was successful. “I’ve had many patients who have said having the procedure dramatically improved their mobility and overall health,” said Dr. Hooks.
Success with the procedure also meant Burbank could get treatment for his hernias. “I’ve hovered around a 110-pound weight loss since my surgery in 2017, and I look and feel fantastic. It could not have worked out better for me.”
Motivation and Commitment
While some may think having a surgery like the sleeve gastrectomy is an easy way to lose weight, Dr. Hooks and Burbank said it is not. Dr. Hooks said it requires patients to be motivated and willing to make a lot of changes. “It can work for anyone that’s motivated,” Dr. Hooks said. “I often tell people this is not the ‘easy way out.’ It’s actually the hard way because it requires a lot of organization, lifestyle changes, and dedication."
Some of Burbank’s motivations included his family and his hopes for better quality of life and longevity. “I wanted to be around for my children and hopefully see my grandkids at some point,” Burbank said.
“One thing that Dr. Hooks drilled in my head is that ‘if you’re doing this just to make yourself look better, you’re probably doing it for the wrong reasons’,” said Burbank. “If you’re going to make this commitment to do this you’ve really got to change your life. You have to learn how to eat, how to manage your intake, and manage what you eat, how you eat and what you drink. You learn to cook, and you learn not to eat through a drive-through window anymore. I never cooked in my life, and I happen to think I’m a fairly good cook at this point in my life because I have to cook my own meals if I’m going to eat the right things.”
Burbank said though he’s had to make a lot of changes and some sacrifices he’d do it all again if necessary. “Going into this was there some trepidation? Yeah. Fear? Yeah. But it was worth it,” he said.