On the first day of first grade, Pam Davis remembers being the heaviest girl in the class. “The cutest little blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy ever came up that first day, and said, ‘Good morning, Chub, Chub,’ and continued to greet me that way for the next 12 years.” As years passed, she married, had two boys, and saw her weight climb to 330 pounds. Her supportive husband assured her that he loved her, not a clothing size. But by her mid-30s, her weight was affecting her health, and it scared her into taking action.
In 2001, Pam had gastric bypass surgery at TriStar Centennial Medical Center through the Center for Weight Management. The surgery not only drastically improved her quality of life but also influenced her career. Today, as the director of the very center where she began her weight-loss journey, Pam is inspiring and empowering others to begin theirs. A serial volunteer who is passionate about supporting the 78 million American adults and 12 million American children affected by obesity, Pam serves on the board of the Obesity Action Coalition and was recently named the integrated health president-elect for the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. Without further adieu, meet this month’s FACE of Tristar, Pam Davis, RN, MBA, Certified Bariatric Nurse and Center for Weight Management program director since 2008.
What ultimately prompted you to get gastric bypass surgery?
I thought I was having a heart attack because my heart would just start racing and pounding. I had to wear a monitor for several days to see if I was having heart arrhythmias, and that’s when I realized it was reflux. I was also having gallbladder issues, and when I was in the car on the way to see a surgeon about my gallbladder, I heard an ad on the radio for Centennial’s Bariatric Surgery program. I asked the surgeon about it, and he said he didn’t do that type of surgery, but he thought I’d be a great candidate. That was January. I came to a seminar here in February, my insurance approved me, and I had surgery in March of 2001.
What are those [a pair of jeans hangs in the corner of Pam’s office]?
Those are my “before” jeans. This was my meltdown moment. About the same time I heard the ad on the radio, I was working at an insurance company, and they were having a casual Titans Friday. You could wear your Titans jersey and your jeans. I didn’t have any jeans that fit, so I went to Lane Bryant. Previously, I would go in there and wonder, “Who on Earth had to wear the 28? Who let themselves get to that point?” That day, I went in there, and the size 28 was too small, and I had a total and complete meltdown in the changing room. So, I drove to Avenue, which has sizes 30 and 32. I put on the 30 jeans, and you have this dual moment of, “Please don’t let this fit because that means I’m now wearing a size 30,” and “Please, what if this doesn’t fit?” So these are my size 30 blue jeans, and this is the only “before” item of clothing that I’ve kept.
What role did your surgery play in your career, and how did you become the director here?
I had an outstanding [surgery] experience here. I’d been a nurse since 1993, and I’d been a case manager at the insurance company for several years, but I knew I wanted to work with patients who were having the same issues with their weight that I had. I wanted to let them know that there were options out there. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel that’s not attached to a freight train. I was finally able to start working in bariatrics in 2004. I will never forget when I called here to schedule my six-year follow up appointment in 2007, they said, “Hey, our coordinator just turned in her notice. You should send in your resume.” So, I interviewed for the position before I had my follow up visit, and then we spent most of the follow up visit talking about how the interview went. Even though I’d had the opportunity to work in bariatrics before I came here, this felt like coming home because this is where I had my surgery.
What are the biggest misconceptions people have about obesity and bariatric procedures?
One of the biggest misconceptions is that anyone who is obese is lazy and lacks willpower. And then, specifically in surgery patients, there’s the thought that if you have surgery, you are taking the easy way out. I would challenge anyone who thinks surgery is the easy way out to please come and follow one of our patients. Attend the seminar with him, go with him to his primary physician and follow him through a documented six-month weight loss attempt [which is required to obtain insurance coverage], even though he may have already tried Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers on his own. Go with him to the three- or four-hour psych evaluation. Sit at home with him waiting for the phone to ring to find out if the insurance company has approved him. Cry with him when it doesn’t. Be there when we get to call him because now it has been appealed and approved. That’s another cry fest, but a good one. Come with him to the support group, the two-hour pre-op class and the pre-admission testing. Drink that magnesium citrate with him the night before surgery. Come in that day, hang out and get up with him four hours after surgery when he tries to walk for the first time. Do the two to four weeks of liquids he has to do after surgery. And then tell me that anything about that was easy. There’s that misconception that once you have surgery, the weight is just going to fall off, and you never have to exercise, and you never have to worry about what you’re eating because you’re going to eat such a small amount. That is so absolutely false. We tell patients that surgery is a tool. We always talk about the weight loss journey. There’s usually a beginning, but there’s never really an end because you are constantly navigating those waters.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
It’s not unusual for it to take anywhere from three months up to a year to get patients through all the insurance criteria. So, you really get to build relationships with them before surgery, and then you see them right after surgery and forever and ever after surgery because lifelong follow-up appointments and support group meetings are included. On Thursdays, we see a lot of patients for follow up visits, and I feel like there are some Thursdays that I don’t get a lot of “work work” done, but I get a lot of heart fulfillment because I get to see patients when they’re coming back in, and they’re doing so well and just want to stop by and say hello.
Do you have a favorite patient success story?
One of my favorite patient stories is a gentleman who wanted to be able to go to the Titans game and walk up the ramps to his seats without getting out of breath. He did surgery, and he was doing great, and one day, I was at the mall with my husband, and I got this text, and it said, “Just wanted you to know I just walked all the way up to the top of the Titans stadium, and I’m not even remotely out of breath.” I thought, “This is it. This is what’s different about working with this population, because they get their lives back.”
What do you think sets the TriStar Centennial Center for Weight Management apart from others?
Most programs strive to have a person somewhere in their program that has had bariatric surgery. We have four now, and at one point, we had seven. We’ve been there, done that. So, when we’re talking to that person on the other end of the phone line, we know what it’s like to wonder if there is going to be a chair in the seminar room that fits me. Am I going to be the biggest person in the room? Am I going to be the only one who has this surgery and doesn’t lose a pound? Those are thoughts that almost every person has when he comes in. We have bariatric chairs everywhere in the building, so you don’t have to look for the chairs that fit you, and we have scales that accommodate everyone. People can come here, to this one location on this huge campus and see the surgeon, the dietician, get their labs drawn, attend a psychologist-led support group, talk to the nurses, and they never have to navigate anywhere else on campus, except obviously for surgery. Those are two really big things that set us apart, as well as the number of support groups we offer every week.
What would you tell someone who might be considering a bariatric procedure?
Just reach out to us to learn more. Coming to a seminar does not commit you to anything outside of education. Go to our website, or go to our Facebook page. It is so crazy to me that no matter what setting I’m in, when I tell people what I do for a living or that I’ve had surgery, almost everyone knows someone who had surgery, knows someone who is thinking about surgery, or they have had surgery.
Thank you to Pam Davis for sharing her story of hope and her journey to health.
If you are interested in learning more about bariatric surgery, contact the TriStar Centennial Center for Weight Management at (615) 342-1231 or visit the website.