Jim Talkington and Scott Griffin are now more than just bariatric patients, they are also friends thanks to the Southeast Georgia Health System Bariatric Program.

Playing football at Florida State University, Scott Griffin had his fair share of injuries, which eventually led to a dozen operations on his knee. The pain made it difficult to exercise, and as a result, he put on 160 pounds – which only made his knee pain worse. He also developed type 2 diabetes, nerve pain, fatigue, high blood pressure and sleep apnea. After trying unsuccessfully to lose the weight and keep it off, he started researching weight loss surgery, and decided to schedule a consultation with J. William Tsai, M.D. A board-certified surgeon at Southeast Georgia Physician Associates-Glynn General & Vascular Surgery, Dr. Tsai has performed several hundred bariatric surgeries.

“I was hesitant at first,” says Griffin, “but Dr. Tsai explained the program and my options, and I liked what I heard. The education and support group sessions that are required before surgery were a huge help, and really made me feel comfortable and confident.”

It was at these sessions that Griffin met Jim Talkington, who was also preparing for surgery. Talkington had played college football, too, and they shared a lot of other interests as well. The two quickly became friends.

“We would crack jokes during the group sessions and bounce suggestions off each other,” says Griffin. “I was scared to death the day before my surgery, but Jim gave me some much-needed encouragement and reminded me how much better my life could be once I got down to a healthy weight.” A year after surgery, Griffin has lost over 210 pounds. His blood pressure is back to normal, and his diabetes and sleep apnea are gone as well. Talkington moved to another part of the state, but Griffin still goes to the support group meetings every month and the two talk regularly.

“Within a week of having surgery, I was off all three medications I was taking for my diabetes and all my symptoms were gone,” says Griffin. “My whole outlook on life has changed. I want to get out and do things and it feels great. None of this would have been possible without the weight loss surgery, and the support of my family and friends.”

“I still go to the support group meetings every month to share my story with people who are just starting their journey,” he continues. “If I can help someone get over the hump and make them feel confident in their decision, that is my way of giving back.”

Supporting Each Other In Their Weight Loss Journeys

“The availability of a support program is critical to our bariatric patients’ success,” explains Tsai. “At Southeast Georgia Health System, our bariatric care team hosts a monthly bariatric support group meeting where a behavioral health specialist encourages patients to share their surgical experiences and form supportive relationships with each other. The facilitator also brings in other health specialists, such as nutritionists and fitness instructors, to talk to the group.”

“Being able to talk with someone who has had the same struggles you have and can relate to you mentally made a huge difference,” says Talkington, who had his surgery a month after Griffin. Though Talkington hasn’t been able to participate in the support group since he moved, he still has video calls with a counselor at Southeast Georgia Health System. But it’s catching up with Griffin that he looks forward to the most.

“Being overweight cost me a lot of friendships,” he says. “I was depressed, my weight fluctuated a lot, and I had all kinds of other health problems like high blood pressure, sleep apnea and mobility issues. The surgery turned all that around, and Scott and the support group were a big part of that.” After the surgery, Talkington’s blood pressure and mental health improved almost immediately, and within a few months his sleep apnea and joint pain improved as well. A year later, he’s down to a healthy weight, and is exercising regularly and eating right to keep the weight off.

“I love being able to play tennis with my kids, go kayaking without worrying the boat will tip over, and do lots of other things that I didn’t have the energy to do before,” says Talkington. “Scott and I also share little victories with each other all the time that anyone who has ever had weight issues can probably relate to, like not needing the extended airplane seatbelt or taking the stairs without feeling out of breath.”

“Sharing these similarities helps us encourage each other, and push each other to reach our weight loss goals,” Talkington says. “I’m just so glad I had the surgery. It has given me the chance to live a long and healthy life.”

Surgical expertise close to home plus a support program comprised of people from your community are two of the elements that make Southeast Georgia Health System’s bariatric program special.

“We’ve seen incredible friendships form through the support group, and those bonds help people stay on track,” Tsai says. “We have assigned nutritionists that work with you pre and post bariatric surgery. And we also have a caring staff to support your success.”

• To learn more about bariatric surgery or to schedule a consultation, visit sghs.org/bariatrics or call 912-265-5125.

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