Plagued by a myriad of health challenges, including intense back pain, high blood pressure, and diabetes, Tina Tucker had grown frustrated with the providers who made her feel like just another statistic by not taking the time to listen to her concerns. But her journey took a remarkable turn when she began receiving care at Centra and had her first appointment with Dr. Hugh Gill at the CMG Neurosurgery Center.
Join us as we sit down with Tina and Dr. Gill to unravel her inspiring path towards a healthier lifestyle. From Dr. Gill's unwavering support, characterized by genuine listening and candid conversations, to Tina's courageous decision to reclaim control of her life, we’ll explore how Tina moved from weighing over 500 pounds to no longer being burdened by back pain or high cholesterol!
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Cami Smith: Hi and welcome to And so Much More. My name is Cami Smith and I am here with Dr. Hugh Gill, a neurosurgeon here at Centra. But also we have one of his patients, Tina Tucker, and she wants to share her story. That's one of my favorite things that we get to do here on And so Much More is hear what is happening behind the closed walls of all these beautiful facilities we have. Because at the heart of what we do is our patients and the lives that you guys get to lead because of what is happening between these provider and patient relationships. Tina, you just went through a bariatric surgery how long ago?
Tina Tucker: It was about two years ago.
Cami Smith: Okay. Two years ago. I don't want to steal any of your thunder, because I'm so excited to hear your experience. Dr. Gill, why don't you tell us, what was the very early conversations in this decision to move forward with bariatric surgery?
Hugh Gill: We first met what about three and a half years ago?
Tina Tucker: Yes.
Yeah, it was about that long. It was an uncomfortable conversation.
Tina Tucker: It was.
Hugh Gill: Came in, had a lot of back pain problems and one of the most significant things was your weight.
Tina Tucker: Yes.
Hugh Gill: This is not an uncommon conversation I have to have with patients to explain to them how much it's actually impacting not just their back but also their overall health. You listened.
Tina Tucker: I did and you listened to me. I had gone to other doctors and I talked about the pain. I remember one in particular I was asked to step on my tippy toes and I did. He's like "Lose weight," and walked out. For somebody to sit there and literally have a conversation with me and look me in the eye and say, "This is not going to get better unless you do this," was awesome to me because he listened. Anybody can hear you but to listen is so important. I'm not going to let this man down because he listened and that meant the world to me.
Cami Smith: I love that.
Tina Tucker: I had not been listened to, so to have a doctor look me in the eye, be honest, yes it was hurtful to hear, but I knew what to do. He pointed me in the right direction, which was great because It's not like he just dropped that information on me and was like, "You go to it." He led me to where I needed to be. To me, it was the biggest thing. I'm not going to let him think for one minute that he wasted his time on me. That was the best, biggest thing for me.
Hugh Gill: I appreciate that.
Cami Smith: I love that so much. Well, and it's so important. I think what you said was, "It's a difficult conversation you have to have." But it sounds like even though someone else chose to say that to you, they didn't choose to have the conversation, so it wasn't even choosing to say what needed to be said because other doctors had done that. It was taking the time to do it well. That's incredible, and I think there's probably a lot of people really frustrated out there experiencing a lot of pain and a lot of discomfort because of weight. People either avoid the conversation because it's uncomfortable or they don't earn the right to speak into their story in the way that you did.
Hugh Gill: It takes time.
Cami Smith: Yes. It's so powerful.
Tina Tucker: You can sit there and you can buy as much SlimFast. You know what I mean? Pop as many pills and do two pills a day and then eat supper. But I had tried all that it didn't work and for you to sit there and take that time, not only to have that conversation that was so sensitive but to say, "Okay and this is the next step, and this is where you go," and to point me down that road.
Hugh Gill: Yeah. Like I said, you're not the only patient I've had conversations with. I try to tell them "I'm not trying to pick on you. I'm trying to tell you what you need to hear." It's hard to hear it. We talked about the metabolic issues you were having at the time, the back issues that you were having at the time.
Tina Tucker: Yes.
Hugh Gill: I believe I told you that it wasn't going to get better. Your back was just going to get worse unless you get the weight off your back and after everything you've been through, you don't have high blood pressure anymore.
Tina Tucker: My kidneys are not bad or acting up.
Hugh Gill: You don't have diabetes anymore.
Tina Tucker: No.
Hugh Gill: Don't have high cholesterol anymore.
Tina Tucker: Not at all.
Hugh Gill: Back pain got significantly better and the only thing we were left with was the surgery that had to do for which was where the lumbar spine meets the pelvis. That's where most people have pain, but sometimes what's actually going on is the back of the pelvis, because the pelvis is made up of three bones. It's that junction between the middle bone that acts like a keystone.
The bones that are on the side that are called the iliac. That's a sacrum and the iliac on the other side, so it's the sacro iliac joint. It's that joint that was arthritic and causing you all this pain. It was really from years of carrying around all that extra weight that had irritated that joint and now had arthritis in it and ultimately that's what we ended up fixing for you.
Tina Tucker: He was not yet trained to do the operation with the robotic arms and he's like, "But I can refer you to somebody in Greensboro." I was like, "No I'm waiting. I'll wait for you to do the training and then you can do the operation."
Hugh Gill: Yeah.
Tina Tucker: Because that was important to me. He had led me to so many good things. You did that for me. I'm waiting for you. You're stuck with me. You're going to do this and-
Hugh Gill: Happily.
Tina Tucker: Yeah. It was like "This man right from the beginning has been honest and kind. No, I'm waiting. I'm not going to Greensboro. I will wait." Sure enough, he did his training and I got my dates and boom we went in and we did it.
Hugh Gill: This surgery has been around since early 2000s at least if not before then. The data was just not supportive of it. It had about a 50/50 success rate for most of the papers that were published. That's one of the reasons why I didn't know how to do it, I hadn't trained in it. The people that trained me had not trained in it because it wasn't a good surgery yet.
Tina Tucker: Yeah.
Hugh Gill: Then a series of papers came out that really pointed to how do you select the right patient to make sure you're doing the right thing for the right patient.
Cami Smith: Oh, I see.
Hugh Gill: As that literature developed, then I started paying more attention to it.
That's why we talked about it. I said that "I intend to actually get trained in it." It was a training course I had to go through and it's just another surgical technique, it's not beyond what I was already doing. It's just applied to a different barrier of the body.
Cami Smith: Yeah, another tool that you have now.
Hugh Gill: Right. Yeah, you were one of our first patients.
Tina Tucker: I rocked it.
Cami Smith: Look at the success. I love it.
Hugh Gill: Since then you haven't had any low back pain.
Tina Tucker: I haven't had any back pain and even my son, who's 30, has a hard time keeping up with me, he's like "Mom."
I'm like "Let's go. Let's do this." It's such an improved quality of life, the same way with the bariatric surgery. Every staff that I have met et cetera, I have not had any bad experience. When you meet somebody and they literally take their time, you just don't want them to feel like they've wasted their time. That was the biggest thing to me. I don't want them ever to look back and go, "Why did I sit in that room for 45 minutes talking to this woman?"
I want them to say, "Yes, she got it." I don't care if I'm one in a hundred or one in two, I got it. This is what happens when you get it and if you're not getting your needs met and you feel like you're not being listened to, don't stop trying to find that doctor that will listen. That is the most important thing that you need because without him listening to me and honestly, me being open and listening to him, I would not be where I am today. I could probably see myself on dialysis. My kidneys were really, really bad at that point. To be able to sit here and be 50 and completely healthy, no problems at all. Yeah, I'd do it all over again.
Hugh Gill: The conversation was just the first step and the last step was doing the fusion on your pelvis?
Tina Tucker: Yes.
Cami Smith: Wow.
Hugh Gill: In between there you have the entire bariatric team that was working with her to-
Tina Tucker: Definitely.
Cami Smith: Okay. Who did you work with over in bariatrics?
Tina Tucker: Dr. Alley. He's amazing. At my heaviest I was 512 pounds. I was big. I could only order my clothes online. It's embarrassing. You go to a store, you can't find your size and you know are a part of that problem. You know what you eat. You've got to be definitely true to yourself and you got to understand, "Okay this is not right. It's not working." You can't go and keep doing what you're doing and expect a change. It's just not going to work.
Cami Smith: Tell me about your mindset when you had that conversation with Dr. Gill and you knew you were stepping into the bariatric environment, this was something you were going to pursue. What was your mindset like? It sounds like you knew there was an issue. Did you know how to move forward? Did you have an idea?
Tina Tucker: He told me about the bariatric surgery. He pointed to Dr. Alley and that's when I started my appointments with Dr. Alley. He went through and I think the first appointment with him was probably the most uncomfortable, because that's where you really get into the meat of why you're big. What is your diet, what are you consuming? That, not only does it open your eyes but you walk away going... But you learn, and you really have to train your brain all over again.
What's good? What's bad? Don't do that, don't do this. I did and it was amazing. I was a smoker which did not help. You're overweight and you're huffing and puffing and he was like, "You need to stop smoking." I quit smoking cold turkey done.
Cami Smith: Goodness.
Tina Tucker: I just feel like if you got to do it, you got to go through it to do it, so just set yourself up and go. The sky's a limit when you set your mind to it. It was important. I got children and I wanted to see grand babies and I wanted to be healthy. Nobody likes being overweight and struggling and pain and you get looked at. I remember going through the store shopping and I could not stop sweating because I was that big. You got your washcloth and you're wiping you wiping. Now, I just go through the store and I'm like, "Look I'm normal." You just get that feeling that just everything's good. It was nothing.
Hugh Gill: That's a lot of willpower to do. I can't tell you the number of patients that I tell them they need to stop smoking and they can't do it. I have a couple of patients that have flat out told me they will never quit smoking. They don't care how many surgeries they end up having because their spine's falling apart.
Oh my goodness.
They don't care if they get lung cancer. The cigarettes are actually more important to them.
There's a willingness that has to be there on both sides of this relationship, because that's what's sticking out to me the most about this is the trust that's formed between patient and provider to listen, to hear him and receive that, but then also to move forward with his recommendation and to start the process with Dr. Alley. Then even there with Dr. Alley to say, "Yes, to stop smoking," and to be willing to take the steps to do that. How long from conversation with Dr. Gill did you have your surgery? It is it one year prep?
Tina Tucker: It's about a one-year prep because you do have to go through counseling as far as the nutrition values and you're learning what to eat, what's healthy for you, and what to not do. They slowly gradually get you into a diet where you are starting to lose that weight and you do have to lose weight before you do have that bypass. If you step on that scale and you are not a certain weight down you're not going to get that surgery. With Dr. Alley, he also took my blood. If there was nicotine in my blood, I was not going to get that surgery. It was a no-brainer. "Okay, well this is what's doing it and this is part of what's killing me. Done." It went out the window. I can remember even meeting you for the first time, it's like you take a shower, you get dressed, you're ready to meet a doctor, you smoke a cigarette and you're like "I'm good." I remember thinking I'm going to look nice, I'm going to smell nice and now I smell that smoke and I'm like "Ugh. I really thought..." I walked right in there going, "Hey how you doing Doc?" I can't stand it now.
Cami Smith: Well, they say hindsight is 20/20.
Tina Tucker: It is.
Cami Smith: I think when you step out of a situation where there's multiple factors that are so negative for you and that must be amazing for you to look back and see where you are and how far you've come, just because you keep saying, "Yes." You're so willing to say yes That's incredible.
Tina Tucker: You have to. When your back is against the wall and you're given all these opportunities and you do not feel like facing it, you've got to get out of that corner and you just got to start fighting back. If you don't start fighting back, you're going to stay in that corner and that corner, it'll kill you. So go, get out and fight and do what you're supposed to.
Hugh Gill: How long was it between when we made the referral for you to go see Alley, that you actually got to see Alley? Because the other person that's in same practice is Dr. Jones, who's a nutritionist. I know you started with Jones at some point.
Tina Tucker: I did. I saw Dr. Alley probably not even I'm going to say a month after your referral. It's so cool. I love it. It's like seeing old friends now. It's not even an appointment anymore.
Hugh Gill: I think it's anywhere from a six to nine month wait before you can get in.
Cami Smith: Wow.
Hugh Gill: It's that much in demand. But part of that is success stories like what you've experienced.
Cami Smith: Yeah.
Tina Tucker: For me, I think that would be frustrating because you know you're ready to do that, but you got to wait. That itself is very frustrating. But you've got to keep on that road and you got to know, "Okay, eventually It's going to come. You're ready for it. You just got to wait, hang in there because it will happen."
Hugh Gill: I'm not an expert on the weight loss surgery. I don't pretend to be, but I do know some of the things. Again, it was one of those things when the surgeries first came out, they thought they could fix it just with the surgery, but it doesn't work that way.
You actually have to do a multidisciplinary approach, you have to have counseling, you have to have nutritional counseling, there's, a lot of other components that go into it that wasn't there on the first stages of doing this kind of surgery. There are people that are out there that have had gastric bypass, but they've grown back to the size that they were before.
Cami Smith: Because the support wasn't in place?
Hugh Gill: The habit changing wasn't in place.
Tina Tucker: Exactly. You do learn a whole new diet. It's a new regimen that you have to learn but you have to stick to it. Your health, your success, the pain that goes into these surgeries, you want it validated and you need to follow through to have that validated because I didn't want to go through all of that and then turn around and start right back. Who does that?
Cami Smith: I can't imagine. Well, and I think about this from a broad perspective for some of our listeners who maybe bariatric surgery is not their next step, or the joint fusion is not their next step, but listening to your provider who is trying to work you toward life and healing. You think about being willing to say, "Yes." For you it was bariatric surgery and that joint fusion, but maybe for some it's nutrition counseling, it's understanding what does your body need? Maybe taking care of yourself so that underlining problems treat the root cause, let's get to the root cause. It's just very encouraging to see this patient and provider relationship work out. This is what it looks like. This is what is so successful and so awesome to see. Yeah, it's encouraging.
Tina Tucker: He's my friend. I don't see him as a doctor anymore. He's one of my best friends, honestly, because he cared, he listened. Not many people do that. When you get somebody that's overweight and they come see you, it would be so easy to just turn it over and just say, "You got to lose the weight." But he really literally took the time and he pointed me in the right direction. He gave me the referral and it changed everything. It changed everything.
Hugh Gill: Glad to help.
Cami Smith: Thank you guys so much for just even letting us be a part of sharing your story, hearing your story. Thank you everyone who did listen in today and there's so much information on our website about bariatric surgery and weight loss. You can check out our providers, you can see Dr. Gill's profile on our website and even some reviews there that can help you get to know the providers before you step into that relationship, which I think is important, too.
Tina Tucker: Definitely.
Cami Smith: Then just be open to what can be so completely helpful and beneficial for your health. I hope you guys will join us next time on And so Much More.