Qualifying for weight loss surgery can be a long road

Nine months after weight loss surgery, Shalunda McDonald has lost 80 pounds.

"When I first began the journey, I was at 348," McDonald says.  "I tried the diets, I tried the gym. I tried so many things that were just not working for me."

So, about a year ago, the 45-year old Atlanta mother and grandmother came to see Dr. Shaneeta Johnson,  Director of Minimally Invasive and Bariatric Surgery at Morehouse School of Medicine.

Shalunda McDonald underwent gastric sleeve surgery February 14, 2019. (Shalunda McDonald)

At the time, McDonald was prediabetic and struggling with high blood pressure.

"There were a lot of body pains," she says.  "I had sleep apnea where you couldn't even stay in the same room with me without wanting to leave, because I was snoring so loud!"

To qualify for surgery, McDonald underwent a 6-month evaluation to make sure she was ready for the changes gastric sleeve surgery would bring.

Shalunda McDonald underwent gastric sleeve surgery February 14, 2019.

Part of the process involved meeting with Associate Professor of Clinical Psychiatry Dr. Melonie Bell-Hill.

"And a lot of people say, 'Why do I need to see a psychologist? I'm here for surgery,'" Bell-Hill says.  "But, we want to tease out, we want to filter out what the weight is really about. Because if it's more emotional and pyschological in nature, then we have to address that."

Weight is complicated, Bell-Hill says, driven by stress, trauma, emotional eating, sometimes depression.

"Understanding the purpose of the weight and how it served that person really becomes important," she syas. "Because it's not enough to say 'Hey, you need to lose a few pounds,' without understanding how the weight possibly served a true purpose in their lives."

Dr. Johnson says the surgery is just the first step in a lifelong process.

Shalunda McDonald underwent gastric sleeve surgery February 14, 2019.

"It's not like a diet, where you have to remember, I'm eating this or I'm eating that," Johnson says. "This is a way that you eat for the rest of your life. This is the way I exercise for the rest of my life. If you're in it just for the cosmetic reasons, it's a tough journey, because it's not an easy fix, it's a tough road, and it requires you to put the effort in."

Today, McDonald feels better than she ever has.

"I feel like the ruler of my life, because of the choices," she says. "I feel empowered because I made that choice for myself. And I didn't dictate it around my family, or my friends, or trying to get a man, or making someone jealous.  It was because I knew it was time for me to make a change in my life."

She's encouraged by her weight loss, McDonald says, and can't wait to see where she goes from here.

I feel so full of energy," she says.  "I feel like a bright sun. I feel finally what I feel on the inside is matching up with what's on the outside.

Shalunda McDonald underwent gastric sleeve surgery February 14, 2019. (Shalunda McDonald photo)