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Singing a Healthy New Song

Scott Helberg sits at a grand piano, flipping the pages of a pop songbook before finding just the right Billy Joel piece to sing.

As his fingers flit across the keyboard, the doctor explains how he loves to end his day with a little music, heading out with friends for karaoke or just playing a few tunes at the piano by himself.

A year ago, Dr. Helberg barely had enough energy to get through his day seeing patients who have been admitted to the Sioux Falls hospital. But today, after the care he received from the team at the Sanford Metabolic and Bariatric Surgical Program he’s the first to want to stand up and sing.

“Everything is different,” he says. “My work is better, my mood is better. I want to go out see people and sing.”

A dangerous trend

The doctor had struggled with his weight as a child, but by age 35, it became a serious problem. For over ten years he worked to lose weight with several weight loss programs. While he’d drop pounds temporarily, the weight would always come back on.

As his body size grew, he found himself getting more and more tired. Making it through his rounds at the hospital, he’d get easily winded and have to sit down often throughout the day.

Dr. Helberg didn’t realize how his weight gain was impacting his health until one day in August of 2010 when he collapsed at a conference in Seattle. He had suffered diastolic heart failure and found himself a patient in the hospital, wondering what was happening.

“Being a physician in some ways makes it more difficult,” Dr. Helberg says. “My whole perception of myself was different than what was really going on.”

After flying home, Dr. Helberg consulted with a pulmonologist and cardiologist and got the hard truth. The 44-year-old man was suffering from hypertension, with dangerously high blood pressure levels, and suffering the effects of diastolic heart failure and pulmonary hypertension.

Unless he could drop some of his 265 pounds, his future was bleak.

“If I wanted to live to age 50, I needed to make some dramatic changes,” he says.

A tool for change

His doctors suggested weight loss surgery, but Dr. Helberg wasn’t sure. He researched his options and decided that a sleeve gastrectomy procedure could be the tool he needed to make some serious changes.

On June 2011, he had the surgery, a procedure that removes the majority of the stomach, leaving a narrow tube of stomach where food can pass through the system. The surgery totally changed the way he ate and even the way he thinks about food.

Occasionally he still drives into the parking lot of a fast food restaurant, but he doesn’t want to stop at the window. He gets a lift from driving away instead.

“I eat anything that I want to, but I don’t overeat,” Dr. Helberg says. “My cravings have changed and I what I now desire to eat isn’t the same.”

So far, he’s dropped about 90 pounds and he’s seen incredible benefits in every aspect of his life.

His hypertension and heart issues are gone and his blood sugar and cholesterol levels have gone back to healthy levels. Back pain that had been caused by inflammation in his spinal discs has gone away and he even has reversed the progress of osteoporosis in his bones.

Loving the results

“I’m 44, and I’m feeling best I’ve felt since I was 25,” he says, his hands moving across the piano keys.

As the weight dropped, Dr. Helberg was able to add regular exercise back into his life, walking and working out on an elliptical machine. He soon found that he had the energy he needed to make healthier choices throughout the day, parking farther out in the lot and walking in or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

He has become and advocate for weight loss and weight loss surgery, talking to his patients about the way it can help them and their health. Bariatric surgery used to have a stigma, but now more people see it as a long-term tool to improve their health.

Looking at old pictures of himself before the weight loss, he doesn’t even recognize himself, but he can tell he did not have the energy he needed to do the things that made him happy. It’s hard to remember that he used to end his day exhausted, barely able to make it up the stairs.

“I get to the end of the day and I’m still ready to go on, to do more fun things,” Dr. Helberg said. “I’m not the one who wants to go home, I’m the one instigating things. I’m ready to sing.”

Posted Date: October 2012