Woman Loses 130 Pounds Months After Radical Stomach Surgery

Procedure removes most of stomach -- and the hormone behind hunger.

Nov. 3, 2011— -- For the first time in as long as she can remember, Holly Matherne is excited about shopping.

"I like to try on different things, different colors, things I never would have picked up before," said Matherne, a 39-year-old nurse. "I'll wear white, light colors, bright colors. Maybe something with a little lower-cut neckline or shorter sleeves, or even sleeveless."

Last October Matherne was a size 32. Today she's a size 18 and dropping. An addiction to clothes is replacing her previous addiction: food.

In an interview with "Nightline" last October, Matherne said, "I've been fighting with weight since I was 6 years old. I've been on every diet, I've been to a nutritionist, Weight Watchers, reduce fat, reduce calorie, you name it, I've done it. I may lose weight here and there, but then it winds up creeping back on. It's all tied to emotion. I'm obviously an emotional eater."

Growing up, Matherne thought her personality could deflect attention from her size.

"I always tried to be the funny friend, be the funny person, crack jokes so people really wouldn't judge me by the way I looked," she said.

She tried to hide her weight in other ways, too.

"I was always the volunteer to take the picture, or I would be in the back," she said. "And the height helped me there, so I could always stand in the back so more people in front would kind of camouflage me a little bit."

Last fall Matherne weighed 370 pounds, and she knew she had to turn her life around before it was too late, she said.

"I want to be around, I want to meet my grandchildren one day, I want to see my kids get married. All those milestones I want to be around for."

After years of unsuccessful dieting, Matherne decided to have sleeve gastrectomy, a surgical operation to remove most of her stomach. The procedure cost around $30,000 and is irreversible.

Dr. David Treen was Matherne's bariatric surgeon.

"The beauty of the sleeve gastrectomy is that the patients lose weight twice as fast as what we've seen with other surgical procedures," Treen said. "There is no question this is the single best option for patients who the weight has just gotten out of control."

The surgery takes less than an hour and sheds very little blood. A pouch is cut from the stomach and stapled shut, and the rest of the stomach -- about 85 percent -- is twirled out of a dime-size hole.

With that part of the stomach goes a hormone called ghrelin.

"Ghrelin is a powerful appetite stimulant," said Treen, "and when you remove this part of the stomach, most of our patients tell us after surgery, they're not hungry. Ever."

It's not unusual for a patient who's had the surgery to lose 100 pounds in six months, Treen said.traditional bariatric surgery. The long-term complications are unknown. The short-term results, however, are astonishing.

Last December, two months after her surgery, Matherne had lost 50 pounds, she said. As with others who have had the surgery, daily exercise and bite-size meals would be the key to keeping it off during recovery.

Now, her recovery complete, Matherne's portions are not much bigger.

"I'm full. I just had two little pieces of pork and a piece of sausage. So it was a couple of ounces, I guess" she said.

And when those around her have full plates, Matherne isn't tempted.

Most Significant Milestone a Hug From Her Son

"If I want a bite of something, I'll let myself have that taste of it, but it's not like before, where, like, oh my God, I'd keep having to go back and I'd get more and more and just eat until I can't, you know, fit any more," she said. "Now it's just, I'm content. I don't let it control me. It doesn't consume my thoughts like it used to."

Matherne has lost 130 pounds since the surgery. She has also shed many of the inhibitions she said held held her back her whole life.

"I find I'm a lot more outgoing," she said. "I always thought I was outgoing, that I had a good personality, but I find I'm less hesitant in social situations."

An even more important milestone came from her son.

"My youngest came up to me the other day, and he had told me before surgery, 'I can't wait until I can hug you and my fingers touch,'" Matherne said. "The other day he came up to me and hugged me and was like, 'Mom, my fingers are touching! Isn't that great?'"

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