Steve Deplato knew his body was under stress, and he wasn’t sure how much longer it would hold out.
“I had gotten to 325 pounds and was close to 60 years old. My blood pressure and cholesterol were very high, and my eating was out of control,” Deplato said. “I wasn’t going to survive very long.”
Deplato has had minimal success with diet programs, lifestyle changes and or exercise over the past three decades. He decided it was time to seriously consider bariatric surgery, an option he’d dismissed years before.
“It was time to pull the trigger,” he said. “Nothing else was working, and I was too old to be this big.”
Deplato underwent gastric bypass surgery on June 3, 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s been almost two years, and he’s still maintaining a healthy weight. Though lifestyle change was grueling at times, Deplato said his only regret is that he didn’t have the surgery years ago.
“It’s been life-changing in only positive ways,” he said.
Major surgery is a significant commitment
Deplato understood that gastric bypass is major abdominal surgery. Surgeons divide the stomach to create a small pouch and re-route the small intestine during the surgery.
Before and after surgery, Deplato committed to attend support meetings, learn new habits, and take care of his health in ways he’d never done before.
Challenging circumstances were not new to Deplato; he had overcome onerous circumstances before.
At 16 years old, Deplato lost his vision and that made him angry. He overindulged in alcohol and food and spent two decades trying to push people away.
In the early 1990s, he found a support group for people who are blind.
“That’s when I wanted to be a successful blind person. To accept and move on instead of being angry about it. To put love energy back into the world,” Deplato said.
He quit drinking in 1995 and married his beloved Tammy.
“I’ve been happy ever since, and we take good care of each other,” he said.
He strived to be a person who was fun to be around and he became more socially active. He joined Longmont’s Djembe Orchestra and frequently shares his love for music at community events. Despite his progress, he was still discontent about his weight.
(In this video, Steve Deplato, left of the man in the blue shirt, plays with his Longmont community band prior to his bariatric surgery at UCHealth Longs Peak Hospital.)
Conquering the weight challenge
Since losing his eyesight, Deplato’s weighed between 165 and 400 pounds. He’d had a friend who underwent bariatric surgery in 1995, so he was familiar with the surgery but never seriously considered it.
Deplato tried many diets and weight-loss tactics, and he enrolled in Overeaters Anonymous since Alcoholics Anonymous had worked for him.
“With AA, you stop drinking completely. You say no and move on,” Deplato said. “With overeating, you can’t say no all the time. I’m a person that lives on the extremes–it’s all or nothing. … I tried every diet you can think of, and it never really lasted more than three weeks.”
Making the appointment with UCHealth Surgical Clinic – Longs Peak Hospital
After getting a referral from his primary care physician, a requirement of his insurance, he met with Dr. Robert Powell, UCHealth Surgical Clinic – Longmont, and Laura Miracle, manager of the bariatrics program UCHealth Longs Peak Hospital.
“Steve had been able to lose weight before without surgery but couldn’t keep it off,” Powell said. “He’d regained a significant amount of weight back, and he needed a more durable weight-loss option.”
Its essential candidates try non-operative options before considering surgery, he said.
“The surgeries we do are safe, and we provide a high level of care. Me and Dr. Derek Leopold perform all these operations together, and we have excellent operating room staff. However, there are still risks with surgery under general anesthesia,” Powell said.
If a patient and their bariatrics care team determine weight-loss surgery is the right path, they go over options to select the type of surgery.
But a patient doesn’t go right off to surgery.
“Weight-loss surgery is just a tool,” Miracle said. “If you use the tool the way it is intended you will be successful with sustained weight loss.”
Starting the road toward bariatric surgery
UCHealth Longs Peak Hospital is an accredited bariatric surgical center, as recognized by the Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Accreditation and Quality Improvement Program.
Achieving this national accreditation ensures that Longs Peak Hospital’s bariatric program provides multidisciplinary, high-quality care for surgical patients. And being accredited allows for the bariatrics team to tailor a patient’s weight-loss journey and track outcomes against national standards to continue to provide exceptional care.
“The surgery is only one day, but the program is a lifetime, so it really is a team effort,” said Dr. Robert Powell, a UCHealth Surgical Clinic – Longmont surgeon.
“Obesity affects everyone, all demographics and socioeconomic classes,” Powell said. “There is a benefit to having a program locally. These patients are not standard surgery patients. It is a lifelong relationship that we start with our patients.”
Preparing the mind and body are essential elements of UCHealth’s Longmont bariatric program, Miracle said.
“Patients start preparing physically and mentally for surgery from their first visit. Starting to incorporate new healthy habits prior to surgery helps patients prepare for all of the changes that come after surgery. Learning how to fit these new habits into their day-to-day routine so that it’s already a part of their lives by the time they have surgery is essential for success,” she said.
Typically, surgery occurs about six months after the first appointment. During that time, patients attend a support group to learn from others awaiting surgery and those who have already had surgery. Patients undergo a mental health evaluation by a therapist and meet with dietitian Maranda Stone, who specializes in bariatric surgery, to begin preparing for diet changes.
Many insurance companies require patients to complete a medically supervised weight-loss program before surgery. The program teaches healthy eating and lifestyles changes, preparing the patient for surgery to give them the best chance to be successful with sustained weight loss, Miracle said.
“It worked well for me,” Deplato said. “And I enjoyed the people I met.”
Deplato began sharing his plans for bariatric surgery with his friends, who then helped motivate him to make changes.
Two weeks before surgery, Deplato said, was probably the most grueling part of the process. To aid in a safe surgery, patients must shrink their liver to be small enough for the surgeons to work around it efficiently. A two-week low-carbohydrates, high-protein diet is necessary to shrink the liver.
“It’s nothing but protein shakes, Jell-O and water,” Deplato said. “That was a bit of misery and an exciting time because I was ready to have surgery. I managed to lose 11 pounds, so even with that physical misery, I was excited that I was finally getting the process started. If anything was going to change, I was right on the verge of that.”
(In This video, Steve Deplato, wearing a black hat and sitting on the lead drummer’s right side, plays with his friends at the Longmont Art Walk after his bariatric surgery at UCHealth Longs Peak Hospital.)
Bariatric surgery success
Deplato completed necessary blood work and cancer screenings before arriving for surgery. The procedure took about three hours.
After surgery, he spent three days in the hospital, a little longer than usual as doctors wanted to monitor his slow heart rate. But Deplato said he felt great.
“I had to treat my stomach gently afterward, but I didn’t feel any post-op discomfort,” he said.
Once home, he started eating little things, incorporating his earlier teachings into his daily habits. It wasn’t without mistakes, he admits.
A few weeks after being home, he boiled two eggs, planning to save one for the following day. But he got distracted, and before he knew it, he had eaten both.
“Five minutes later, I was sick as hell. I’d overfilled my pouch,” he said. “I learned that lesson quickly: eat slowly and small. I still have to remind myself today. When I wanted to make myself a sandwich before, I’d never make just one. After surgery, I have to remind myself I can’t eat two. I still sometimes think this is not going to be enough, that I’m not going to be happy. Then I get a quarter the way through one, and I’m satisfied. And I know if I stay where I am, I’ll be happy. I wrap it up and eat it later that day.”
Keeping weight off after bariatric surgery
Generally, a patient tries to reach their “healthy weight level” about a year and a half after surgery. This figure is different for every patient. But as Deplato got closer to the 100 pounds he wanted to lose, his spirit also lightened.
“Steve went through some hard times not feeling good about himself when he was so heavy, and there was only so much I could say or do to make things alright,” Tammy said. “Since he’s lost the weight, his attitude is so good. He’s smiling and has a whole different outlook on life.”
He also has a new wardrobe.
“Once I got to my goal weight, I went out with a friend and did some shopping,” Deplato said. “I got rid of all my old clothes because I can dress well now. When you’re 325 pounds, it’s impossible to dress well because it is all black, white, grey and blue, and everything looks like a potato sack.”
He enjoys the compliments he gets on his new style, and his outlook is much sunnier.
“My confidence is way up in a way it hasn’t been for years and my self-respect,” Deplato said. “I’m out there among people, making myself part of the conversation rather than hiding in the corner.”
He’s also expanded his musical ambitions to vocals. While it was once difficult for him to be in front of a microphone, he now feels like a “rock star” and can’t help but smile.
“When it’s time to play, I feel alive and like a whole person in a way, which I haven’t felt before.”
And his experience with bariatric surgery is something he wants to message loud and clear.
“If you’re thinking about it and starting to do the research, don’t wait any longer,” he said. “I know there is planning, but stop it and get it done. The sooner you get it done, the sooner you can accomplish what you’re hoping to achieve.
“I wish I would have done this back in 1995. I would have been a better person to be around much sooner.”
The message is similar for Tammy, who couldn’t imagine life without her husband.
“I want other people to know about his program,” she said. “If it can help one person get to that point, it will be worth it. I know how much it helped Steve. If he had waited much longer, he’d have other health issues. I feel so fortunate that he didn’t wait.”