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Published on January 28, 2019

Weight Loss Surgery: At a Healthier Weight, Local Firefighter Discovers Unexpected Benefits

James Shelton Bariatrics

Months ago, volunteer firefighter James Shelton, 35, of Greensboro rushed to a large, serious house fire, climbed into the attic to locate the seat of the flames, and directed his colleagues where to focus their efforts.

Four years ago, he would never have done that. He could not have done that. But today, almost 200 lbs. lighter, that kind of contribution to firefighting is the norm for him.

“Before I lost the weight, I was never able to even get into an attic, much less move around in one,” says the veteran firefighter of 20 years. The difference today: his own hard work and the support of the people with the bariatric program at Cone Health.

Before joining the Cone Health program, James had tried “everything under the sun” to lose weight. He used various diet plans and was even pretty active, with hunting and fishing being favorite pastimes. But James could not lose the weight. Determined, he continued trying hard, adding a more intentional exercise routine.

“For years, I kept workout and food logs,” he says. “I recorded what I ate and what amount; what cardio exercises I did, including running and biking, and for how long; and details about strength training I did.”

He had three notebooks full of these logs.

“So I could show my doctor that I was trying,” he says. “It made me realize I really couldn’t do this on my own.”

His doctor agreed. “He told me that some people have to have the help and suggested I look in to the bariatric program at Cone Health.”

So, he did, and he quickly made his decision to participate. Tests as part of the program confirmed why James’ years-long efforts to lose weight had not paid off. He knew previously that he had hypothyroidism, a condition where the thyroid is not working well, which affects both metabolism and weight. But his team at Cone Health discovered that his hypothyroidism was severe even when on the highest dose of thyroid medicine.

“Because of that, I never would have been able to achieve the weight loss on my own compared to what I’ve done with Cone Health,” he says.

James began the Cone Health program in the summer of 2014, and Eric Wilson, MD, performed bariatric surgery on December 15, 2015. By January 2019, he had successfully maintained a weight of 200 pounds for over three years.

James says he appreciates the support of his surgeon and bariatric team, who were right there with him “every step of the way.” He took advantage of the support group, and now, four years later, his personal physician still checks in with the Cone Health team to help him remain on track.

“I ran into Dr. Wilson recently shopping in town, and he still remembered my name,” James says. “He called to me from across the store, saying I was still doing amazing and to encourage me to keep it up. That was impressive, and I appreciated it.”

James efforts have taken him from a pants size of 46 to 32, and he now wears medium and large shirts, vs. 2X and 3X sizes.

Weight Loss Surgery

“I’ve always been active, but I enjoy things so much more now.” - James Shelton

He exercises five to seven days a week for 30 to 60 minutes and enjoys more trips and other activities with Elizabeth, his wife of eight years. He is still surprised by how much energy he has after work for woodworking projects, and for shooting and editing pictures for a couple of race car teams in the area.

“I have more stamina and have no trouble getting into tree stands (for hunting),” he says. He’s also picked up another sport that he’d always avoided before.

“I’d always talked myself out of kayaking because of my weight,” he says. At 300 lbs., he was not sure he could do it, or if he could enjoy it. “But no more! I fell in love with kayak fishing.”

He now has his own 12’ boat. And as for hunting, he relishes the fish and the wild game he brings home even more than before. “As it turns out, it’s some of the healthiest meat you can eat!”

Thinking about his volunteer firefighting, he still finds surprises in how different the work is today. “During live-fire training before I lost the weight, I would need to change air packs after four rotations into and out of the house,” he says. “During one of the first live-fire trainings I had after surgery, I realized I had made five rotations and still had almost half of my supply left.”

He no longer has trouble climbing into high-level windows, or getting up and down ladders with heavy tools.

“Before, I couldn’t get into those tight spaces, like an attic. But now, I’m the one designated to go in. I am so much more versatile in what I can offer my department.”

“I’m really a whole different person,” he says. “My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner.”

Cone Health’s bariatric program can be an important step in getting you where you want to be. Find out about the next informational session.

About Cone Health Bariatric Surgery

The Cone Health Bariatric Surgery Program is the only program in the Triad that is recognized as a Center of Excellence by North Carolina’s top four health plans:

    • Aetna Institute of Quality (IOQ) for Bariatric Surgery
    • BlueCross BlueShield Blue Distinction Center Plus (+) for Bariatric Surgery
    • Cigna Designated Facility for Bariatric Surgery
    • UnitedHealthcare Center of Excellence for Bariatric Surgery

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