'One of the best decisions I have ever made.' Lander man loses 130 pounds

By Kristy Bleizeffer Nov 19, 2019

Patrick Pasquinelli of Lander lost 130 pounds after undergoing laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy at Wyoming Medical Center in 2018.

Patrick Pasquinelli’s life is full: He and his wife have 10 kids, ages 19 months to 27 years, some adopted and some fostered. He’s been a teacher in Lander for 15 years.

Though he’d been heavy most of his life, his weight started creeping upward after he got married. Two years ago, he’d reached 325 pounds. While he didn’t suffer high blood pressure, diabetes or other disease that are linked to obesity, Pasquinelli knew his health was at risk. He was 37, his family was growing, and he wanted to be around for them.

In January 2018, Pasquinelli had a laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy at Wyoming Medical Center and has lost 130 pounds.

“I did a hike last summer, and I got up to 11,000 feet in the Wind River Mountains.  That was something I don’t think I have ever been able to do before the surgery,” he said. “Before I got tired just picking up around the house.”

Wyoming Medical Center’s weight-loss surgery program has helped patients lose more than 20,000 pounds, and we are the only hospital accredited center for bariatric surgery in the state. On our road to becoming a certified Center of Excellence, we have been accredited as a Comprehensive Bariatric Center under the Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Accreditation and Quality Improvement Program.

Now 39, Pasquinelli is more active and feels healthier. In the interview below, he is candid about his initial struggles with the idea of weight-loss surgery and why he now believes he made the right decision.

When did weight start becoming a concern for you?

I was always a big person, a big kid.  I gained a lot of weight after I got married and I was getting up to 325 pounds. I was just unhealthy. I was tired all the time, I didn’t want to go do anything.

So, I tried to diet several times. I lost 40 pounds once, but most other times it was usually about 20 to 25. Then, I would gain it all back.  I tried diet pills and other plans, but none of it ever really worked for me.  I am not blaming the pill, or the other methods, I just didn’t stick with them.

What made you consider weight-loss surgery?

At the time, I thought, “I am getting older. If I am going to do something, it would be smarter to do it now than it would be if I was 58 or 60."

Were there things that you wanted to do that your weight made it too difficult? Or things you were reluctant to try?

Well, I like to be outside. I could still hike, but it was harder to get places. It took me a lot longer, and I had to take longer breaks. I used to kayak when I was younger, and I wanted to start doing it again, but when I got in the kayak it was just very tipsy because I was too heavy. 

Before weight-loss surgery, Patrick Pasquinelli's weight had creeped up to 325 pounds. It made it difficult for him to do outdoor activities such as hiking and kayaking.
Patrick decided to undergo weight-loss surgery when he was 37 years old, before his weight really started to affect his overall health.

How did you hear about Dr. Helling and this surgery offered at Wyoming Medical Center?

I went to a doctor in Lander for a checkup and I just asked her about weight-loss surgery.  She recommended going to Salt Lake or Denver or to go to Dr. (Kevin) Helling in Casper. She said that she had heard some good things about him, and if I wanted to go somewhere closer to home, to talk to him.

Then, I started researching the different choices and I watched Dr. Helling’s video.  I thought he seemed pretty down to earth.  I thought he had really good credentials, and I set up a consultation. 

How much more convenient was coming to Casper than, say, Salt Lake City or Denver?

A lot more convenient, especially since Dr. Helling did clinics in Fremont County.  But even just going to Casper was nice because it is only 2-1/2 hours from here.  When I was looking into it, I didn’t know how many visits I would have to have prior to the surgery or all the follow-up appointments I would need afterward. It was good to have an option to do it in Casper.

Tell us about the process leading up to surgery.

I had to meet with a nutritionist a couple of times.  My insurance did not require me to do that for six months, like some insurers do. Dr. Helling did require me to go through two hour-long classes about the procedure and expectations. I had to get some blood work done, do a CT scan, and an EKG. Then, I had to push the process back because I needed to have back surgery.  

Basically, I just followed the steps that Dr. Helling required that all his patients do before they go through with the surgery.  Then I had to start the presurgery diet. 

How did the surgery go?

It went really well.  It wasn’t really that painful afterwards.  The incisions were very small, and I can’t really even see scars on my stomach anymore.  The hardest part was trying to drink and eat stuff that you didn’t want to right after the surgery, but they wanted you to stay hydrated so you had to make yourself.   

How long were you in the hospital?

Two nights, I think,   and that was just because of the anesthesia.

What did you think about your care at Wyoming Medical Center?

I thought it was really good.  All the nurses were really good, and they helped out with whatever they could.  I was quite happy with everything.

When did you start noticing the weight loss?

I followed all of Dr. Helling’s guidelines. For the first two weeks after surgery, I was on an all-liquid diet and all I could eat were protein shakes basically. I noticed the weight loss right away. I mean the first week I was down, I think, 10 pounds. The next week it was another 10 pounds. It started dropping fast. 

After about a month, I was able to start eating some solid foods, but you didn’t want to eat too much so I still was on protein shakes. I still was losing weight like crazy.  The first six months, I think I lost about 70 pounds. 

About six months in, I started regretting doing the surgery because I guess I was missing food. I really struggled to overcome that.  I can eat more now, I can eat anything I want, I just don’t eat as much of it.

Last summer, Patrick was able to hike up to 11,000 feet in the Wind River Mountains. "That was something I don’t think I have ever been able to do before the surgery,” he said. “Before I got tired just picking up around the house.”

After about a year, are you still having regrets?

The good definitely outweighs the bad.  I mean, I am healthier, I am much happier, and I have just gotten over the food issues.  You get used to listening to your body.  Without surgery, when you eat too much, you feel sick. But those who have had the surgery, if they overeat, it’s painful. So you learn to listen to the cues of your body.

Did you notice improvements to your health?

I just felt better.  I am still somewhat younger, so I didn’t have high blood pressure, I didn’t have any sort of diabetes at the time or anything. But I just felt super unhealthy, and I feel so much better now. 

Having gone through the process, would you recommend others to consider weight-loss surgery?

It is a personal decision based on what is most important to a person’s life.  The thing that was important to me was I wanted to be able to do activities now, when I’m younger, that I knew I wouldn’t be able to do when I was bigger. I want to do more with my kids and have a healthier, longer life. When I was 300-325 pounds, I worried that when I started to slow down, as I got older, I would just get heavier.  I thought this would be the time to do something about it instead of waiting another 5 or 10 years.

And would you recommend Dr. Helling?

Definitely.  He and his staff were very good. They remembered things about my life every time I came in. I felt like they tried to personally get to know their patients, and I thought the surgery went great.  Dr. Helling explained everything in such great detail, and he spent tons of time answering my questions.

Then, after the surgery, he was really good too.  He wants to follow his patients, basically for the rest of our lives. He praised me for my weight loss and was very encouraging. 

Anything else you’d like to add?

I am almost two years out from my surgery, and I would just say it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.  I did have my struggles.  I debated for probably a year and half to two years prior to doing it, and even afterwards I struggled with the whole idea of it.  But now, I am extremely happy that I did it.  I went from a size 46 waist size to a size 34 now.  I wear an extra-large shirt when I was wearing 3XL, 4XL. Shopping is so much easier and so much cheaper for me now.

I also thankful this was available in Casper which was so much closer and easier than going to Denver or Salt Lake City.

Kevin Helling, MD

Kevin Helling M.D.

Dr. Helling is a general surgeon with a fellowship in advanced laparoscopy and weight-loss surgery.