Weight Loss Surgery Creates New Life

Visiting family in another state, Sharalyn “Bunny” Staricka heard the plan to spend a day at the zoo. Her sister-in-law, niece and nephew clamored for Bunny to go, but she had to turn them down. At 375 pounds, Bunny knew she’d never make it around the exhibits – or even across the parking lot without severe pain.

“At my heaviest I couldn’t be on my feet more than 20 minutes at a time,” recalls Bunny. “I used to live a few blocks from Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle and couldn’t walk there without getting a ride home. Living at the bottom of a big hill, I felt trapped.”

Bunny started thinking about weight loss surgery back in college, but insufficient insurance and financial resources kept it out of reach. Life setbacks, including a divorce, moving far from home and the end of another long-term relationship, all contributed to putting on more pounds. Then the unexpected: Bunny met the love of her life, Mathias.

“A few months before our wedding I had concerns about my health and wondered if I’d ever be able to have children,” says Bunny. “It was time to find a doctor to do the surgery. In the past I’d had such good care in Virginia Mason’s emergency room, that’s where I wanted to look.”

Bunny watched a video of bariatric surgeon Lily Chang, MD, and was struck by her genuine desire to improve the lives of people battling extreme obesity. Bunny learned about the different options for weight loss surgery, ultimately deciding on the Roux-en-Y procedure. Roux-en-Y gastric bypass involves creating a small pouch from the stomach and connecting it directly to the small intestine, literally bypassing parts of the digestive tract that absorb calories.

post-surgery“The Roux-en-Y gastric bypass really is the gold standard for weight loss operations,” says Dr. Chang. “While there are potential complications, side effects and a risk of regaining weight, the procedure typically results in excellent weight loss and resolution of weight-related health problems. Surgery is one of the best tools we can offer patients to help them dramatically change their relationship with food.”

For Bunny, the months of dietitian visits leading up to her gastric bypass were a welcome combination of goal setting to reach a safe preoperative weight and preparing for success after surgery. “What I loved about the visits is they let me choose one or two small goals to work on at a time,” says Bunny. “I also learned new habits for a smoother transition to life after gastric bypass. I knew they wanted me to succeed.”

After Bunny fully recovered from surgery, a new way of eating began to take shape. Dinner-size plates gave way to small plates. Salads and veggies took center stage, while calorie-dense or fatty foods were reduced to a few bites. The sugary treats of Bunny’s lifelong cravings now tasted way too sweet. Far from feeling deprived, Bunny marvels at what disappeared after surgery: the incessant inner voice demanding high-calorie foods.

“When my system was out of whack I was obsessed with homemade flour tortillas, a favorite growing up in Texas,” says Bunny. “I got one after my procedure and it wasn’t anything like before … it was just gummy and unappealing. I found myself way more excited about the fresh salsa and guacamole.”

In just over a year since having gastric bypass, Bunny shed 170 pounds. Now she walks all over downtown Seattle and recently toured Japan, on a dream trip with her husband. Bunny also introduced him to rollerblading, an activity she loved as a kid. On a return visit with her brother’s family, they all got to enjoy the zoo. Bunny is living her best life now, she says, but acknowledges there will be at least some weight gain happening soon.

“One year after surgery Dr. Chang gave us the green light to start a family,” says Bunny. “We’re expecting our first child in October.”

A version of this story first appeared in the Virginia Mason Health System 2018 Annual Report.