Finding a happily ever after with gastric sleeve surgery at Ascension Illinois | Ascension

Finding a happily ever after with gastric sleeve surgery at Ascension Illinois

Gastric sleeve surgery at Ascension Alexian Brothers helped this Elk Grove Village man lose 285 pounds and gain a family.

Before: 500 lbs. | After: 215 lbs. | -285 lbs.↓

In 2015, without thinking, Collin Steenken did something momentous: he bent over and picked an object up off the floor.

Before his bariatric surgery at Ascension Alexian Brothers in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, when he still weighed more than 500 pounds, this simple action would have been impossible for him. And it spurred Collin, now 45, to take more and more steps beyond what he thought possible. Doing so led him to his wife, his son and the life he has wanted.

Gaining weight on the late night shift

The IT professional’s weight troubles began while working third shift at a former job. Collin’s workday started at 11 p.m., where he sat in front of a computer for eight or nine hours in a deserted office. At 7 a.m., he’d drive home and sleep until it was time to get up for his next shift. Dinner was typically fast food, the only thing open that late at night. There was hardly anyone to talk to, and not much to do besides boredom-eat.

This took its toll on Collin’s body and mental health as his weight increased from the isolation, lack of exercise and unhealthy diet.

“I could barely walk 10 feet without my back hurting,” Collin recalled. “I was prediabetic at the time. My cholesterol was right at the edge of being a problem. I was just unhappy.”

Collin stopped doing the things he liked doing. He was no longer making much effort to see his friends or socialize. “It’s hard to do stuff when you’re that big,” he said.

Collin’s mom worked for Ascension Alexian Brothers. When she saw how miserable he was, she suggested that he look into their bariatric surgery program.

“You call them, you get an appointment, no problem,” said Collin. “They’re so good.”

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Gastric sleeve and duodenal switch surgery

James Kane Jr., MD, met Collin at his initial consultation. An experienced bariatric surgeon, Dr. Kane has helped develop his practice into a multidisciplinary surgical program that has been fully robotic-assisted since 2020. Robotic-assisted surgery systems make it easier for the surgeons to perform the procedures safely and at high precision.

“We tailor the procedure to the patient and their unique health needs. We don’t try to pigeonhole them into one procedure,” said Dr. Kane. “We also perform body contouring and revisional procedures, so our patients can have all their surgery done in one place by a doctor they’ve come to trust.”

Dr. Kane asked Collin about his health history and walked him through the bariatric procedures that would be a good match for his weight loss goals. Collin selected gastric sleeve surgery, also known as sleeve gastrectomy. This procedure reduces the size of the stomach by removing a large portion of it, leaving behind a banana-shaped sleeve. As a result, the patient feels full more quickly when eating. It also causes the stomach to produce fewer hunger signals.

Collin’s body mass index (BMI) also made him eligible for duodenal switch surgery. A duodenal switch connects your stomach to the duodenum, bypassing most of your intestine. This limits how much nutrition your intestine can absorb from food, including fats and proteins, and can help lower your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

“For people at Collin’s weight and BMI, I would almost always advise them to do both procedures at once,” said Dr. Kane. “Patients who only do the gastric sleeve often gain some of the weight back after losing it.”

This is indeed what happened to Collin, who returned for his duodenal switch in 2022. At the time of his gastric sleeve, Collin was hesitant about bypass procedures and the dietary restrictions involved. He had slowly gained 75 pounds back over four years prior to his duodenal switch.

“Looking back, I’m kind of mad at myself that I didn’t just have the duodenal switch done then,” Collin admitted.

Support throughout the weight-loss journey

Before Collin could undergo surgery, he had to work through his to-do list. First, he learned about the procedure and got to ask questions during a seminar. Next, he underwent a psychiatric screening, followed by a support group with people who had already gone through the surgery. There was also a sleep medicine consultation to check for sleep apnea, an endoscopy to make sure that his anatomy could handle the surgery and a dietary consultation. This prep work is required by all Ascension sites of care that perform bariatric surgery and can take four to eight weeks to complete.

Collin appreciated that the program did not sugarcoat his weight-loss journey. It would be worth it, but it would not always be easy, particularly the pre-operation diet: three weeks of liquids, followed by three weeks of purée, then three weeks of chopped foods.

“Switching from the foods I knew to that scared the heck out of me,” Collin confessed. He’s not alone in this, according to Dr. Kane; most patients have the hardest time changing their eating habits. But with guidance from his nutritional counselors, Collin learned to make oatmeal, cook chicken and more.

Collin went home from the hospital within a couple days of his procedure and soon found himself walking without back pain.

“The sleeve was amazing!,” exclaimed Collin. “I lost, like, two pounds per day. Just from the surgery.”

Soon, he was running and lifting weights again. He was also getting regular support during the tougher stretches from his dietitians and psychiatrist Adam Crane, who were all a phone call away.

“I had been so secluded in my house for so long that I didn’t know how to interact with people anymore,” Collin remembered. “The idea of meeting new people kind of scared me. Dr. Crane helped me cope with that anxiety.”

Within a year, at 250 pounds, Collin was literally half the person he’d been. And following Dr. Crane’s encouragement, Collin started going out with his friends again, one of whom texted him about a woman named Dawn. Would Collin like to meet her?

“Before the weight loss, I’d have said no because I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t do anything,” laughed Collin. Little did he know, he ended up meeting the woman he’d marry in 2018.

Collin playing with Cillian

Keeping the weight off after surgery

These days, Collin is doing quite a lot of bending down as he chases his 18-month-old son, Cillian, around the house and the nearby playground. Collin’s weight is around 215 pounds, allowing him to physically do everything he wants to do.

He now works for an oncology office located on the Ascension Alexian Brothers campus, where he sometimes passes Dr. Kane in the hallway.

“He still says ‘Hey, Collin,’ which blows me away that he still remembers me,” said Collin. “He’s always caring and friendly, even though he’s busy.”

Some of Collin’s friends have been so impressed by Collin’s success that they’re considering the surgery themselves. Collin is encouraging but honest with them, just as the program was with him.

“It changes your life for the better,” he said. “Look at me! I met my wife. I have this beautiful son. My life is amazing, but it’s not easy.”

Dr. Kane has observed that doctors in other medical fields — including diabetes care, heart care and sleep medicine — are discovering the value of bariatric surgery, too. Orthopedic surgeons, for example, increasingly require patients above a certain BMI to get bariatric surgery before they can have their hip or knee replaced.

“Obesity goes hand-in-hand with so many health problems: diabetes, heart failure, sleep apnea, emotional health,” said Dr. Kane. “Weight loss surgery is potentially life-saving surgery.”

Weight loss results may vary depending on the individual. There is no guarantee of specific results.