Bariatric surgery paved the way to Ironman

In 2008, Robert Starnes reached a turning point. The 45-year-old law enforcement officer didn’t like the fact that his body had grown to 425 pounds. He also didn’t like that he’d become inactive and was starting to experience the same health problems that had plagued his parents.

Then, that same year, Starnes’ daughter unexpectedly died of an aneurysm. She had been a voice of encouragement to her dad – urging him to get help with his health. Not long after this, Starnes began making changes. This eventually included a call to the Erlanger Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Center.

“Basically I was doing it to honor my commitment to my daughter and live my life,” says Starnes.

Hear his story:

Starnes had learned about Erlanger’s program in a chance meeting with a friend who had also struggled with weight – but now looked great. She talked about the program and the ongoing support offered by Dr. Chris Sanborn and his team. It sounded like the step he needed to take after many failed diets.  “I had ridden the roller coaster up and down and tried every diet known to mankind.”

There was one problem. Bariatric surgery wasn’t covered by his health plan. So Starnes took a bold step. “I paid cash,” he said. “I made an investment in my life. And to me it was the best investment I’ve made.”

In December 2013, Starnes underwent a sleeve gastrectomy at Erlanger. Dr. Sanborn performed the procedure through small abdominal incisions, reducing the size of his stomach in form of a narrow sleeve. A smaller stomach helped Starnes feel full sooner when eating. But more importantly, the procedure also reduced his appetite by removing the exact part of the stomach where some of the appetite-driving hormones are produced.

While Starnes lost some weight in preparation for the surgery, the “big difference” came afterwards. Starnes shed 132 pounds over the next two years. “I’m literally half the man I used to be. My old pants are so big I can step in one leg. And those used to be tight on me.”

Importantly, his health turned around as well. “I went from nine medications that I took daily, down to one.”

Starnes is quick to point out that the Erlanger program is not a magic fix. It’s a lifestyle that offers tools to help people achieve lasting results. You have to stick to the program that also includes following-up at the center, eating right and exercising regularly.

Continuing his bold steps, Starnes took the exercise requirement to a new level.

It started with a 5k in 2014. The following year he upped his game in a big way with ten half-marathons and seven triathlons. Most recently, Starnes participated in, and almost completed, Ironman Florida. An Ironman is an ultra-triathlon that includes swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles and running 26.2 miles. Starnes’ goal is to complete an Ironman in 2016 and he’s trained more than 2,800 miles to do so

Starnes admits extreme exercise isn’t for everyone. Most people can improve their health with modest changes – like taking a brisk walk four times a week. But for Starnes, ultra-sports have been an exciting way to channel new levels of energy – and honor his daughter.

“I’m living life now,” he said. “I’m not a couch potato. I’m always doing something, staying active, doing a run, trying to motivate and inspire other people. My goal is to go from fat man to Ironman.”

To learn more about lasting lifestyle change, attend Dr. Christopher Sanborn’s free seminar at the Erlanger Metabolic & Bariatric Center.