Published on April 08, 2021

Achieve Your Goals

The path to achieving and maintaining healthy weight loss is littered with challenges that can make it difficult for just about anybody. Most people have the willpower to lose weight temporarily, but the truth is that we don’t always have complete control over this in the long run. The physical makeup of each of us different, and our bodies have incredibly powerful mechanisms that might limit weight loss or even cause us to gain weight despite our very best efforts.

Read the real life stories of patients that have tackled these hurdles to achieve their goals. 

Judy - Baker, MT

If you’re considering surgery or a weight management program, do it, don’t wait. Use every resource you have available. Do it for you and the ones you love.”

Judy Bariatric Surgery PatientJudy is a quilter, a baker, a lover of fashion, a dedicated wife, and a proud mother of her 37-year-old son, Joe. Judy has also gone through the weight-loss journey of a lifetime thanks to the love and support of her family and the Billings Clinic Metabolic Surgery team.

“I had gastric bypass surgery in December of 2018,” said Judy. “I knew I needed to lose weight but I was so embarrassed about where I was starting and my age. It was my son, Joe, who finally gave me the courage and motivation to start. He said, “Mom you have some serious health problems and at the weight you are and the way you keep going, I’m worried you won’t be here much longer.” Joe was my constant champion; he was by my side through the whole process. He even took time off work to take me to surgery, appointments and meetings.”

Reflecting back on her journey, Judy recognized there were multiple parts of the program that opened her eyes and have continued to stay with her years later, like learning about nutrition, before and after surgery, from Lindsey, a registered dietitian on her comprehensive care team.

“Lindsey was amazing, she took the time to teach me about the food I was eating, and how I could make more conscious decisions and stick to them. There are simple swaps you can make that are even more delicious than the snack foods you find at the store. I’m making these dehydrated tomato chips, that are so delicious.”

There’s a remarkable difference looking at before and after photos, but Judy said the most important thing is she truly feels like she enjoys life again.

“Before surgery I was hiding inside myself. I didn’t like to go places because I felt too big and too fat. Now, I feel like my true self has finally come out. I love clothes shopping; I have a shoe addiction and I actually enjoy going out and doing things with my family. I can walk without pain again!”

Judy says her only regret is she didn’t do it sooner.


Kristen - Clark, WY

I hope in sharing my story, both the hiccups and joys, others can find the courage to take the next step in their healthy lifestyle journey, whatever form that may be.”

Kristen Bariatric Surgery PatientKristen is a business owner, fitness enthusiast, loving wife and caring mother to two sweet daughters under five. Kristen is also a person who tackles challenges head-on and embraces new opportunities, which is exemplified through her weight-loss journey with the Billings Clinic Metabolic Surgery team.

“I had gastric bypass surgery in January of 2019,” said Kristen. “It’s been an incredibly eye-opening journey. There have been plenty of speed bumps along the way, but I hope in sharing my story, both the hiccups and joys, others can find the courage to take the next step in their healthy lifestyle journey, whatever form that may be.”

“When I was pregnant with my second daughter, I started experiencing high blood pressure and had to go on medication. Following pregnancy, I had to stay on medication. At that point in life, I was 365 pounds. I was having health problems, but I was also avoiding doctors because I was too scared to face what could be wrong. I wasn’t living life anymore because I didn’t want to be seen in public. As my daughters grew, I realized I didn’t want to be a mom on the sidelines anymore and reached out to the Billings Clinic Metabolism Center team.”

“I only told four people that I was moving forward with weight-loss surgery. I was scared about not knowing how it would turn out for me. I also think it’s because I fell into the stigma of thinking that I was taking the easy way out. Let me say, it was not easy. My recovery took four weeks, and I had to really work at it, and I continue to work at it today.”

“Looking back, I’m thankful for Dr. Pender. At my first appointment, he gave me some tough love. I remember him asking what I did for exercise. I said, well, I do laundry and chase my kids around and do house chores. My feet hurt, and I’m tired after, so that has to count. He looked at me and said, ‘Kristen, that’s not exercising. It needs to be an intentional 30 minutes of movement. Be consistent and stick with it.’ At that moment he truly prescribed me exercise, and it helped me harness my own strength.”

“I think that’s one of the most impactful parts of this program; it helped me find my strength. I realized that I didn’t need to rely on other people for motivation to do this. I needed to do it myself. The mental strength I’ve gained is incredible and it’s helped in other aspects of my life, like my relationships with family friends and my business. I’ve learned to prioritize what’s important and push through to achieve those goals. I've also found my love for running. I've completed several races; I'm currently training for a half marathon and my husband and I are doing a trail race together soon.”

“My advice for others considering surgery or a weight management program at Billings Clinic would be to take it seriously from the beginning and plan ahead. The pre-op program is no joke. You learn a lot about yourself and how to prepare. You can feel overwhelmed after surgery and at points throughout your journey, but if you make a plan, you can accomplish anything.”


To talk to a Care Navigator about your options call 406-435-5219

FAQs about Metabolic Surgery

What is the difference between metabolic and bariatric surgery?

  • They are one and the same. Metabolic surgery, bariatric surgery and weight loss surgery can be used interchangeably.

How do I know if I qualify for surgery?

  • If your BMI is >40 you automatically qualify. If your BMI is 35-39.9, you must have at least one weight-related co-morbidity.

How do I know what my BMI is?

  • BMI (Body Mass Index) is calculation using your height and weight. You can simply search “BMI calculator” online and enter your height and weight to find out your BMI.

What is a weight-related co-morbidity?

  • This a medical condition that often occurs along with obesity that is expected to improve with weight loss. Some of the more common weight-related co-morbidities are type 2 diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, obstructive sleep apnea, heart disease and joint problems.

How long is the process prior to surgery?

  • Patients wanting to have metabolic surgery will spend several months working with our team in preparation for surgery. Metabolic surgery is a big change and involves many lifestyle changes. Our goal is to adequately prepare you so that you have the tools to do be successful long-term.

Who makes up the metabolic surgery team?

  • Patients in our program work with a medical provider, dietitian, trainer, licensed clinic social worker and of course a surgeon. We also have a nurse navigator to help coordinate your care throughout the process.

Why should I choose to have surgery at Billings Clinic?

  • Our program is accredited by MBSAQIP (Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Accreditation and Quality Improvement Program). This means that we must meet and uphold certain standards along with continually improving the quality of our program. Our multi-disciplinary team will help you prepare for surgery and will continue to work with you afterward. Obesity is a chronic, relapsing condition. This means that surgery doesn’t cure obesity – it is just part of the treatment. Our team will help you manage your obesity long-term.

How do I know if my insurance covers metabolic surgery?

  • You can contact our financial liaison at 435-5373 and give her your insurance information (from your insurance card). She will be able to tell you if metabolic surgery is a benefit of your plan. She will also be able to let you know what your estimated out of pocket costs would be.

What if my insurance doesn’t cover metabolic surgery?

  • We do offer a cash pay price. You can learn more about cash pay by calling 435-5373.

What if I cannot afford the cash pay price for surgery but need help losing weight?

What are my first steps in preparing for surgery?

Rick - Billings, MT

If you go all in, you’ll be surprised by how quickly the weight falls off. That’s the key though, you have to give it 100%. If you don’t want to give it 100%, then don’t do it.”

Rick Bariatric Surgery PatientRick is a Montana man through and through. He loves watching football, camping, enjoying the great outdoors and spending time with family. He also knows what it’s like to set goals, achieve them and then come back for more, all with a smile on his face. When Rick started his weight-loss journey, he told his metabolic surgery team that he would be the poster child for success, and he was right. Here we are, less than a year later, sharing his story.

“I had gastric bypass surgery in August of 2020,” said Rick. “My mom also struggled with obesity. The day before she passed away, she talked with me and told me it was time to lose the extra weight. I knew I needed to too, so I started the process and reached out to the Metabolic Surgery Team at Billings Clinic. After finally getting insurance approval, I knew it was time to go all in.”

Rick knew the process wouldn’t be easy, and there could be complications with his medical history. “I think the scariest part of the process was knowing I was going to have surgery when I’m prone to blood clots. I did end up having one in my digestive tract, and it put me in the hospital for a bit. I knew it would be okay though because Billings Clinic is the best hospital in town, and I had a great support system.”

A member of that support system is Kristen Gordon, RN, a certified bariatric nurse. Kristen is the program coordinator and nurse navigator for the Billings Clinic Metabolic Surgery Program. As the navigator, she helps patients coordinate their care throughout their journey to better health.

“I’m just so thankful for Kristen. She taught me that I could not only set goals, but I had the power to achieve them when it came to my health. She’s become more like a friend. I can call and ask her a million questions, and she always makes time for me. She’ll explain things again and again until I understand. She’s always there for me, and I feel like she cares.”

Metabolic surgery requires changes in lifestyle and commitment, but in Rick’s eyes, that’s a good thing when you are ready.

“You have to be all in -- it's all or nothing. You have to make sure you’re eating the proper stuff and fueling your body the right way. For example, I eat a lot of fish now. If you go all in, you’ll be surprised by how quickly the weight falls off. That’s the key though, you have to give it 100%. If you don’t want to give it 100%, then don’t do it.”


Stephanie - Columbus, MT

You have to be ready and know it’s time. I was ready to be active and live life with my boys again.”

Stephanie Bariatric Surgery PatientStephanie is an outdoor enthusiast, a cancer survivor, and the proud mama to two amazing teenage boys. After a college trip with her eldest, she decided it was time to commit to a major lifestyle change and move forward with metabolic surgery.

“I had gastric bypass surgery in 2019. I decided to explore options for weight-loss surgery after taking my oldest son out to Butte for a college tour. I had a knee that needed surgery, but I was also overweight and out of shape, so I struggled to keep up with the group. I thought to myself, I should be able to take my kid to a college visit without him turning around and telling me to hurry up.

I work at Billings Clinic, so it felt like a natural next step to reach out to the Billings Clinic Metabolic Surgery team. I work in health care, so I didn’t hide what I was doing and was very open about the program. People who had been considering it were more willing to ask me questions, and I actually found that my patients and co-workers were taking steps toward a healthier lifestyle with me.

As a health care worker and cancer survivor, Stephanie said she wasn’t scared of the process but was more concerned about the unknowns. “My biggest unknown was, what if this doesn’t work? I also caught myself thinking about people’s perceptions, but going through the 4-month pre-surgery process, I lost 40lbs, which gave me the extra boost of confidence I needed going in.”

Five weeks after her gastric bypass surgery, Stephanie was diagnosed with endometrial cancer, which led to a full hysterectomy, her second major abdominal surgery in two months. An essential part of Billings Clinic’s comprehensive metabolic surgery team is the inclusion of a behavioral health specialist, which was an important part of Stephanie’s healing.

“The most impactful part of the program was obviously the weight loss, but the second most impactful part was Mary, LCSW, the metabolic surgery licensed clinic social worker. After being diagnosed with cancer, I was able to get into Mary quickly and receive the support I needed, and she continues to give me long-term support today.

Looking back, Stephanie said her only regret is not doing it sooner.

“Definitely check out the weight management program. Gastric Bypass is not for everyone, you have to hit a certain low point, you could even say rock bottom. You have to be ready and know it’s time. I was ready to be active and live life with my boys again.”


Meet Kristen Gordon, Registered Nurse, Certified Bariatric Nurse, Nurse Navigator

There is nothing more rewarding than meeting patients when they first enter the program and then watching them evolve as they work their way toward, and ultimately achieve, a healthier lifestyle."

Kristen GordonIf you ask Kristen Gordon, Registered Nurse and Certified Bariatric Nurse, she’ll tell you she has the best job in the world. Kristen is the program coordinator and nurse navigator for Billings Clinic’s Metabolic Surgery Program. As the program coordinator, she is responsible for ensuring that their program follows the standards required to maintain Billings Clinic’s accreditation by the Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Accreditation and Quality Improvement Program, a designation they have held since 2016.

While accreditation is essential, Kristen feels the most rewarding part of her job is her role as the nurse navigator. As the navigator, she helps patients coordinate their care throughout their journey to better health. Patients work with a multi-disciplinary team for several months leading up to surgery, and the team continues to help patients manage their obesity following surgery.

“Obesity is a chronic, relapsing medical condition. Just because a person has surgery and loses weight doesn’t mean that their obesity is cured. Surgery is just part of the treatment.” The team consists of medical providers, dietitians, a trainer, a social worker, and metabolic surgeons.

Kristen is the first person that patients meet when they start the program, and she sees them at various points throughout their journey. She sees every patient in the hospital before their discharge once they have had surgery. She serves as a single point of contact for patients in the program. “They see so many different members of our team along the way, but If patients have questions, they can always call me.”

Judy, a patient who had metabolic surgery just over two years ago, described her gratitude toward Kristen by saying, “She took the time to answer all of my questions whenever I called – and I had a lot of them! She never made me feel like she was in a hurry and needed to get off the phone.”

Another patient described Kristen as his best friend throughout the process. “She pushed me and showed me where I could go, rather than where I was headed. I couldn’t have done it without her,” says Rick, who had surgery about eight months ago.

“There is nothing more rewarding than meeting patients when they first enter the program and then watching them evolve as they work their way toward, and ultimately achieve, a healthier lifestyle. They’re the ones that do all the hard work. I’m just fortunate enough to be in a position to watch it all happen!” says Kristen.

For more information about Billings Clinic’s metabolic surgery program, please contact Kristen at (406)435-5219.

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