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Our patients and their stories

These stories paint a picture of the expert medical care and excellent experience we provide to our patients and their families.

Ernie Eichberg

I literally have my life back

"It wasn't just the physical reasons I stopped doing the things I loved. That was part of it, of course. I was always out of breath and tired, but just as debilitating was the emotional toll it took. I had really lost my motivation to want to do the things I loved."

Bernice Petersen

"Happy, Active and ALIVE!"

With this program, Bernice Petersen literally got her life back. The entire team provides support, not just prior to surgery, but after surgery as well. Their encouragement has helped her succeed with her journey through weight loss surgery.

Debe Gau

Transformative Journey

"I didn’t know I was fat, and I didn’t know that the health issues I had were related to my weight. Up until the winter of 1999, I believed I was healthy. That changed when my legs started hurting for no apparent reason."

Holly Stein

Life is better than ever

Stein had struggled with her weight for years and made many attempts to lose weight. She even got down to 130 pounds at one point. “But that was unrealistic for me, and I couldn’t keep it off.”

Penny Deam

Preparation + motivation = weight loss success

“I had been overweight all my life, and I felt like I had been on every diet out there. I was not getting any younger, and I wanted to lose weight while I could still go out and enjoy life.”

Jack Holmes

Small victories

For most people, having to wear someone else's clothes after getting caught in a rainstorm would be an annoyance. For Jack Holmes, fitting into his younger brother's clothes is a small victory.

James Snow

Enjoying life after weight loss surgery

Having been at a healthy weight for most of his life, James Snow didn’t anticipate that a career change would eventually lead to his obesity. For years he managed a retail organization and literally ran from morning until night.

Joan Tabak

I am living a life that I never had before

Joan Tabak’s journey toward weight loss surgery began at age 39. She had hit 320 pounds – her highest weight ever. Having struggled with extra pounds during her early teen years, her weight soared out of control following a hysterectomy.

Krystal Despain

My weight got in the way of living my life

“Life changing” is how Krystal Despain of Minneapolis describes her surgical weight loss journey. “To see her living a full life, a life she wasn’t able to live before, inspired me to call Unity Hospital Bariatric Center.” Despain was 27 years old when she had her own weight loss surgery.

Rob Portinga

“I am doing things I never thought possible”

Rob Portinga’s weight loss surgery journey started at Unity Hospital’s Bariatric Center in 2008. At 371 pounds and with a BMI of 53.2, Rob had been dealing with medical issues related to his weight, including high blood pressure for 20 years, sleep apnea and acid reflux.

Heidi Morrison

Taking care of Heidi Morrison

Heidi Morrison heard about different surgeries and decided the sleeve procedure would be best for her. Morrison scheduled an appointment and Dr. July had performed the first sleeve procedure at Unity Hospital and after only six months she had lost 70 pounds.


Alison was unhappy with her weight since childhood

As a young girl, Alison felt awkward and self-conscious about her size. "I tried dieting for years and I often lost weight, but I always gained it back, said Alison. "I was extremely discouraged and frustrated."


"Gastric bypass surgery helped me to lose 120 pounds!"

I continue to lose weight through sensible eating and aerobic exercise. I don't feel invisible or forgotten anymore!

Mary Murck and Michael Knott

After weight loss surgery, couple enjoys a new life together

Mary Murck and Michael Knott were both chubby kids whose excess weight followed them into adulthood. When they met in their 40s, both weighed more than 300 pounds.

Tim Smith with Jodi Nicholson

Tim Smith says he would absolutely do the surgery again.

Nine months after surgery at United Hospital, he's about 140 pounds lighter and no longer needs insulin for his diabetes or any of his 10 medicines.

Less to love

Couple chooses weight loss surgery to lose 265 pounds


Pat and Ann LaCourse have spent most of their married lives taking care of others. They have three teenage daughters and have been foster parents to 37 other children. Now, they are taking care of themselves.

In December 2005, Ann LaCourse, an elementary school principal, had Roux-en-Y gastric bypass weight-loss surgery at Unity Hospital by Daniel Baker, MD. A few months later, Pat LaCourse, a trucking company dispatcher, also had the procedure performed by Dr. Baker of the Unity Hospital Bariatric Center. In a little more than one year, the LaCourses have lost a combined 265 pounds.

Because they experienced the surgeries together, they have been a great source of support to each other.

"Pat is my motivator," Ann said in a recent interview with her hometown newspaper, Sleepy Eye, Minn. Herald Dispatch. "I can come home and be tired and he's telling me 'Let's go for a walk.' I couldn't have done this without him. He is my incentive. He gets me going."

Although weight-loss surgeries are popular options for obese individuals, it is rare for a husband and wife to both have the procedure. The couple appeared on the Fox 9 Morning TV Show on Valentine's Day to talk about their experience and the fact that they now have "less to love" about each other.

"I run into people all the time who don't recognize me," Pat said. "Some of them have asked me if I could have lost the weight without surgery. I say, yeah, maybe short-term. Now I've reached this point and I don't ever want to go back to the way I was."

"So many people have told me that we look so much happier, and we are. We feel so much better than we did," Ann said. "It's been an exciting journey and certainly life-changing. I'd do it again in a heartbeat."

To learn more about bariatric surgery, attend a free seminar; they're scheduled weekly at Unity Hospital. For more information, call Allina Health Class Registration at 1-866-904-9962.

Photo: Today, Ann can fit into one leg of the jeans Pat wore before surgery. Photo credit: Doreen Tyler, Sleepy Eye Herald Dispatch

Life changing surgery

"The surgery will change your life."


Richard Izzo of Ham Lake is happy to tell anyone considering weight loss surgery: Don't wait. It will change your life.

"I tried to lose weight with diets, but those just didn't work," said Izzo. "This was the easiest and best way to lose weight. I am happy to tell anyone who is struggling with too many extra pounds: Have the surgery."

At 360 pounds, Izzo had achy knees and hips that were stressed by his weight.

Izzo knew friends who had had weight loss surgery at Unity Hospital. And his wife, a nurse, knew about Dr. Daniel Baker and his reputation as a first-rate surgeon with a compassionate bedside manner.

"I had Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery at Unity in October 2005, when I was 52 years old," said Izzo. "The procedure went so well, I was back to work in only a few days." During the surgery, performed by Dr. Baker, Izzo's stomach was reduced from the size of a small cantaloupe to that of an egg. He eats less, but feels full and satisfied – while absorbing fewer calories.

Izzo was careful to follow the Unity Hospital Bariatric Center's instructions to exercise, take the nutritional supplements required and eat the suggested amounts of protein, vegetables and other foods. As more and more weight came off, Izzo was able to realize a life-long dream: A canoeing vacation with his family, something he would not consider when he was heavy.

Now at 182 pounds, Izzo says his friends have to look twice when they see him. "People don't recognize me anymore," he said. He enjoys a new hobby, waterskiing, and has more energy to do his woodworking projects or play on the floor with his 10 grandchildren.

Lap Band® surgery

Lap Band® surgery gives Karie Henderson "the lifestyle I had always wanted."


Karie Henderson was never overweight as a child or adolescent. But after she married and had her only child, a son, everything changed.

"I just kept gaining more and more weight – and very quickly – after I had my son," said Henderson, who lives in Mound. "My son has always known me as a heavy person. I felt badly that I couldn't be more active with him when he was little."

At her heaviest, Henderson was 250 pounds. She had frequent back aches and muscle soreness. A bigger concern for her was that her family history includes serious heart problems and diabetes.

Henderson had talked with family members who had had weight loss surgery at Unity Hospital, known to be a pioneer in treating folks with obesity. As one of the first bariatric surgery programs in the state, Henderson was pleased to learn that Unity Hospital Bariatric Center was offering the new Lap Band surgery option where a gastric band is surgically placed around the stomach to limit how much food can be eaten.

Henderson had her Lap Band surgery by Dr. Jeffrey Baker in December 2005 when she was 34 years old.

"It was a complete success," she said. Henderson recovered from the laparoscopic procedure quickly and was anxious to "start the lifestyle I had always wanted." Her employer, G & K Service of Minnetonka, allowed her six weeks of recovery time, which gave her the chance to concentrate on her health, adjust to her new nutritious and balanced diet, and start an exercise program.

The Lap Band is adjustable and Henderson had Dr. Baker adjust hers four times in order to find her "feeling-full sweet spot" and to tailor the rate of weight loss that was the best option for her.

The result? She has achieved her goal of losing 100 pounds. "I just recently took a trip by plane and was so happy to sit comfortably in the seat," she said. "I was even able to put the tray down all the way!"

As a smaller and more trim person, people don't always recognize Henderson. "Even my husband will lose me. If we separate in the grocery store, he can't find me unless he remembers what I'm wearing!"

A new path to better health

Tim Smith with Jodi Nicholson

Tim Smith is happy with the results of his weight-loss surgery at United Hospital.

Last year, Tim Smith took a big step for the sake of his health: He decided to undergo weight-loss surgery. Now, nine months after surgery at United Hospital, he's about 140 pounds lighter. Smith no longer needs insulin for his diabetes or any of his 10 medicines.

"Absolutely, I would do the surgery again," he said. "I'm happy with these results."

Smith's journey to surgery started 15 years ago when his weight got out of control and he developed type 2 diabetes. "Every day I would wake up and take insulin and 10 pills to deal with my medical problems. I hated that," he said. "I finally decided I didn't want to do any more damage to my health."

Smith researched hospitals for weight-loss (bariatric) surgery and chose United because of its Center of Excellence designation. He attended the introduction class and then began the steps to prepare for surgery.

Among them were: meetings with a bariatric surgeon, dietitian and nurse; evaluation by a psychologist; and extensive education. To keep the weight off, bariatric surgery patients must permanently change their eating habits and get regular exercise.

As William Rupp, MD, medical director of United's Bariatric Surgery Center, tells patients, "Bariatric surgery is not a cure; it's a tool."

Rupp, who is Smith's bariatric surgeon, recommended the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery. In late December 2011, Smith had the surgery to divide his stomach and create a small stomach pouch. This is a permanent change, reducing how much food the stomach holds and limiting the absorption of calories. The result is lower blood sugar.

"About 80 percent of our patients who are diabetic no longer need insulin three to six months after their surgery," Rupp noted.

Weight loss also reduces or ends many obesity-related health problems, including sleep apnea, hypertension, heartburn, degenerative arthritis and limited mobility. "Obesity affects 60 diseases and conditions," Rupp explained.

As he recovered at United, Smith prepared for a new phase of his life. He learned about the importance of eating slowly, including taking small bites and chewing food to the consistency of applesauce. "If you overeat, it's uncomfortable. You learn that quickly," he said.

His weight dropped rapidly in the first few months. And after several weeks, he no longer needed insulin. Smith often had questions for Jody Nicholson, bariatric surgery coordinator.

"Jody was always right there by phone when I needed help," he said. "She and Dr. Rupp made me feel comfortable. I definitely was not just another number to them."

Smith described himself as a guy who loved steaks and other red meat, which he hasn't eaten since the surgery.

"I'm not missing it," he said. "My philosophy is, don't sweat the little things."

At the two-year point after surgery, he will be able to eat one to two cups of food at a meal. He exercises regularly on a stationary bike and enjoys having more energy and mobility.

Smith is happy with his decision to have weight-loss surgery. He offered this advice to anyone who is considering it: "You owe it to yourself to look into this."

Source: Healthy Communities Magazine, Fall 2012 edition
Reviewed by: William Rupp, MD
First Published: 10/01/2012
Last Reviewed: 10/01/2012

I lost 120 pounds!

"Gastric bypass surgery helped me to lose 120 pounds!"

Larissa after

I continue to lose weight through sensible eating and aerobic exercise. I don't feel invisible or forgotten anymore!

I was so scared the morning before my surgery, but it is the best decision I ever made. It quite possibly saved my life.

I can't explain how fun it is to be able to shop in the "juniors" section of ANY clothing store. I don't feel like I have to hide inside oversized clothes after losing so much weight.

Couple enjoys new life together

After weight loss surgery, couple enjoys a new life together

Mary Murck and Michael Knott

Mary Murck and Michael Knott were both chubby kids whose excess weight followed them into adulthood. When they met in their 40s, both weighed more than 300 pounds.

They began their married life 11 years ago with many shared interests – cooking, traveling and attending concerts – and a strong desire to lose weight.

"We tried many things together to lose weight, but eventually we'd fall off our exercise or diet program and have trouble getting back on," says Murck.

They also began to suffer the medical consequences of obesity, including diabetes, heart disease and joint pain. Activities they enjoyed were overshadowed by more practical concerns, like how much walking was required and whether the seating would be comfortable for them.

Everyday activities also became difficult. "I had knee replacement surgery and was walking with a cane. Even going to the grocery store was too much walking, so I would wait in the car," says Murck.

In desperation, Murck began looking into weight loss surgery, and Knott also became interested. She had her surgery in September 2009 and he had his in March 2010. Together they have lost more than 225 pounds and are continuing to work toward their weight loss goals.

Now the couple enjoys shopping, walking, dancing – and even a day of yard work together. "Before we would struggle to get one little job done around the house. Now we can spend the whole day outside raking and playing with the dog," says Murck.

Along with having more energy, the couple is experiencing a return to good health. Murck is completely off her diabetes medications and Knott no longer needs insulin for his diabetes.

"Weight loss surgery has given us a new life," says Murck. "I've always had a rich, full life and I've been blessed with family and friends – but now I have this too. You don't realize how much the excess weight holds you back from life."