ELLERBE — While still in his 30s, Ellerbe resident Mark Rhyne began feeling bad. Really, truly bad.
So he did what people should do when they begin to realize something has gone awry in their anatomy — he went to his primary care physician to find out why.
“Over the years, I had gone to a FirstHealth family doctor,” Rhyne said. “And as time went on, I would go and my first problem was my blood pressure was high. So Dr. Kopynec would put me on a pill, and then he’d check me another quarter and I’d go back. Then, my cholesterol had gotten high, so he put me on another pill and advised me on how I should eat right and diet and get healthy. And I tried.”
Rhyne said he knew he was heading into troubled territory when his doctor had him taking three medications for blood pressure, and another two for his uncontrollable cholesterol — especially since he describes his lifestyle at the time as having been “fairly active.” An engineer for Pee Dee Electric, Rhyne’s job often brought physical demands on a daily basis.
“The one thing that really took me over the edge was when my sugar went too high,” Rhyne said. “And it was borderline diabetic for a while and then it crossed the line and I was full diabetic. And I could never control it. I was on one pill at first, and then a few months later there was a second pill. So I was up to about seven pills by now.”
Meanwhile, Rhyne said that his blood pressure continued to be a concern. He said that for most people with high blood pressure, the condition presents no symptoms aside from the occasional headache.
“And cholesterol, you definitely don’t feel that,” he said. “But when my sugar went bad, I felt that. Every minute, every second, every step from waking in the morning to going to bed, I felt horrible. And so I started thinking, ‘There’s got to be some way to fix this. I can’t live like this.’ A lot of people live with it — I just could not. I was not on the shots yet, but I had family that was.”
Rhyne said looking back at his family history, he knew his father and brother had heart trouble and high blood pressure and that his brother and mother both had diabetes. Not wanting to venture down the same path, he decided to do something totally different.
“I began researching and read a lot online about bariatric surgery,” he said. “I knew there were about three different kinds they had at the time. So I signed up and went to one of the information classes at FirstHealth Pinehurst Surgical. Several doctors spoke, and I asked a lot of questions because in addition to the other problems I had, I was undergoing elective surgery if I had this.”
An elective surgery is one that a patient asks for, but has not been prescribed by a doctor and is not usually covered by insurance. Rhyne’s team of doctors and counselors included Drs. Raymond Washington and David Grantham with Melissa Herman and Jan Norris monitoring and organizing his entire experience.
“Pinehurst Surgical had a therapist to discuss it,” he said. “And there was an online test to see if you qualify. Plus you have to meet the weight and body mass index qualifications, which I think is having a BMI of 40 or above — or having certain other medical conditions, and I had the other medical conditions. My BMI was right there at 40.”
Due to Rhyne’s many other medical conditions, his elective surgery did qualify for insurance coverage. He said he had whittled his options down to either pressing on with more medications or trying diet and exercise, or the surgery.
“They had lots of information sessions,” he said. “And when you start seriously considering it, you’re required to attend some. The therapy, the online tests, speaking with dietitians and all the staff made me feel better about it, even with the elective surgery.”
He said there were times during his research when he still considered trying harder with the regimen of medicines and healthy goals his doctor first suggested, but realized that if it had not worked for him by now, it was unlikely to.
“Well, I’d seen how all the other things went over a period of many years, so I didn’t have any reason to think it would turn out better this time,” he said. “I did have that going for me, though. I’d had a lot of experience with exercise in the gym before going into surgery and lost some weight before it. There’s a two-week diet that happens before the surgery, where you eat very little and try to shrink the liver so they can get to the stomach. It’s a very strict diet, but it’s only for two weeks. Most people can do that for two weeks.”
In February 2013, Rhyne had his surgery and lost 85 pounds. He now takes one small dose of medicine for his blood pressure and one small dose for cholesterol — which has greatly improved.
His diabetes never reached the point at which insulin shots would have been prescribed, and he now says the surgery, which shrunk his stomach to a “banana-shaped organ that can hold about 12 ounces when empty,” had an immediate effect on stabilizing his once out-of-control blood sugar swings.
“When I first went in I asked the doctors which of my medicines I needed to bring with me, and they said, ‘Don’t bring anything,’” Rhyne said. “And sure enough, the day after my surgery, my sugar was perfect. It was perfect, and it has been.”
Another shocker for Rhyne came when his medical team sent him home from the hospital the day after the surgery.
“That kind of scared me,” he said. “I kept asking, ‘Are you sure?’ and I couldn’t believe it. It was done laparoscopically, so I only had three incisions with stitches. They released me from the hospital with instructions for taking care of those and that was that. I never had a bit of trouble. I really couldn’t believe it.”
His medical team continues to keep in touch and monitor Rhyne more than two years after his surgery.
“I am proud of Mark. He has embraced the healthy dietary and exercise plans we stress to all of our patients,” Grantham said. “His success is a testament to our program.”
FirstHealth’s Bariatric Center patient navigator Melissa Herman knows the importance of maintaining relationships built with patients over time and is also proud of Rhyne’s success.
“Our program is unique in that we have a multi-disciplinary team under one roof,” Herman said. “We provide education and support to help patients understand the interaction between the surgery, thoughts and emotions and behaviors. The education and support continues on long after surgery. It is up to our patients to be committed to this healthy lifestyle change and recognize that bariatric surgery is a lifelong journey, which Mark has exemplified.”
To learn more about FirsHealth of the Carolinas and its array of specialty medicine, including weight loss surgery, visit this link on the Web, which features a video interview with Mark Rhyne: http://bit.ly/1K2gdeO
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @melonieflomer.