Gillette coal miner loses 118 pounds

By Kristy Bleizeffer Jun 29, 2017

Travis Bennett, 35, lost 118 pounds after undergoing Laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy in April 2016.

A few weeks ago, Travis Bennett, 35, bought a set of dumbbells, 55 pounds apiece. He picked them up and carried the 110 pounds around his apartment. Then he carried them down the block. 

“When I got back, my knees hurt, my back hurt, my feet hurt, and sweat was rolling off of me. I thought ‘I have carried this extra 110 pounds since I was a freshman,’” said Bennett of Gillette.

Since his weight-loss surgery in April 2016, Bennett, a coal miner at North Antelope Rochelle Mine,  has actually lost about 118 pounds. He reached more than 345 pounds before researching weight-loss surgery, but found Kevin Helling, M.D., and the state’s only accredited center for bariatric surgery just up the road – at Wyoming Medical Center in Casper. He’s hoping to get off his blood-pressure medicine soon, and spends more time in Wyoming’s mountains fishing and camping now that he can venture off the beaten path.

Read his story in the interview below. 

Were you an active child?

Yes. I was active. I started gaining when I got run over by a car when I was 5.  I spent my summer break laid up on the couch. Then, it was not too bad until my teenage years. At 19 or 20, I broke my hip and was laid up when the weight started coming back on. I just kind of spiraled out of control from there.

What did you do to try to lose the weight?

I tried everything: Weight Watchers for Men, low carb diets, no carb. Nothing worked.

When did you start looking into bariatric surgery?

I just started researching surgeons online, and the closest one to Gillette was Dr. Helling.

Did you have any reservations?

Yes. You read the horror stories where the people were sick all the time with it. I would read the good and then back to the horror stories, and then the good. It was a hard decision to finally call and make an appointment.

What kind of surgery did you have, and when did you get it.

April 26 of 2016. I weighed somewhere around 348 pounds. I had the gastric sleeve.

I remember I was the first one that morning for surgery. I think I was here at like 4:30 a.m. A friend of mine drove me down while I slept. They gave that stuff to relax me, but I do not remember much after that.

Tell me about your first couple of weeks after the surgery?

I was on liquids for two weeks, and then on pureed food. It was not as difficult as I thought it would be. I think the biggest thing I had a problem with was drinking enough liquid. I carried a quart glass around with either water or tea. I drank a quart-after-quart. Drinking while eating, that was a hard habit to break.

Why can't you drink while eating?

You fill up too fast with liquids and you’re not getting your proteins and other nutrients.

How quickly did the weight start coming off?

I lost 27 pounds the first week. It was pretty exciting. It is still kind of shocking, the whole drill; especially looking at the “before” pictures. It was kind of weird looking and seeing the difference. I can feel the difference, but until I see pictures I really do not see any difference, if that makes sense.

What do you weigh now?

The weight loss has slowed down, but I am still working on it. I am down to 230, but I would like to see 200 or 210. Dr. Helling told me that after about a year I will kind of plateau off. I did for about 3 months, and I have slowly started again. I think this past week, according to my scale at home, I have lost 7 pounds.

So, what are you doing? What are you eating?

I can eat anything I want now. I try to still stay away from the carbs and a bunch of junk. I cheat every now and then. We are not supposed to have caffeine, but I drink the heck out of Starbucks.

What did the guys at work think? Had you told anyone about the surgery?

I have been very vocal about it. I hated that I got to the point that I was at so that my best alternative was to have the surgery. I have a buddy at work who is trying to get lined out right now to have it done. He has had a lot of difficulty with his diabetes, and I think he is maxed out on what he can do as far as shots and all.

What are some things you can do now that weren’t as easy when you had the extra weight?

A lot of things like fishing, camping, being confined to going to places I could drive right up to.

My girlfriend and I would not have done as much walking in the mountains if I was 100 pounds heavier. That is one thing we have really done. Last year we ended up going to the mountains and we ended up going some places I would have probably not gone to.

Would you recommend this surgery to other people?

Yes.

Why?

Because of the way I feel now. I feel like a totally different person. Just shopping for clothes the other day: I am in size 34 jeans, and I never dreamed in a million years that I would be in a 34 jeans. That is the sucky part though: Clothes are expensive. I have just been buying a little bit at a time. If you buy a bunch and then a month down the road, they are too big.

That is amazing. That has got to describe everything right there.

I did not feel that big of a difference until I carried the weight to my mailbox. It was like, ‘Wow.’

Tell me about your experience with Dr. Helling and Wyoming Medical Center.

It has been great. The support has been good. If you call with a question and they cannot answer it right away,  they answer it within the day. They were adamant about helping any way they could. The insurance was so easy there was not like a big struggle. They were ready to help.

This has been the best thing I have ever done. I hated that I got to that point to where that was my only option.

What’s been the reaction of your friends and family?

The guys at work, they say, “Holy hell, what are you doing?” I get that a lot.

My mother hadn’t seen me since September 2015. When I went back home for the first time since the surgery, Mom just started crying. I don’t think my grandmother recognized me at first. My older sister, who had not seen me in two years, her reaction was the same as my mom’s: She just started crying. 

Kevin Helling, MD

Kevin Helling M.D.

Dr. Kevin 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. He has authored numerous publications and textbook chapters, and he has presented his research at national and local scientific meetings. He practices at Wyoming Surgical Associates in Casper.

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