From Spectator to Participant

A physician’s journey from obesity to wellness

Photos Don’t Lie: The “Before” Image
“When I looked in the mirror, I always thought of myself as a fit, 25-year-old young man. But photos don’t lie, so when I saw pictures of myself before surgery, I would say, ‘Oh my gosh…who ate me?’ I never wanted to see pictures of myself. Since surgery, we have taken new photos of our family.”

In January 2017, Paul Kemmeter, MD, FACS — bariatric surgeon of Grand Health Partners and medical director of the bariatric program at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s — visited the office of Mercy Health Physician Partners Caledonia to speak with staff about the benefits of gastric bypass surgery for patients.

Listening intently was Family Medicine Physician Channing Finkbeiner, MD. Overweight since medical school 16 years earlier, Finkbeiner was particularly interested in Kemmeter’s lecture as it related to diabetes, just one of Finkbeiner’s medical conditions.

At that point, Finkbeiner was 44 years old, had a BMI of 51 and weighed 342 pounds. “I had several co-morbid conditions: hypertension, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, joint and back pain, and had experienced AFib twice,” he recalled.

About halfway through Kemmeter’s talk, “it became obvious that surgery was something I needed to do. I thought that without it, I may not be around to see my kids grow up,” said Finkbeiner. Kemmeter remembered it this way: “During my lecture, Dr. Finkbeiner threw his hand up and said he was going to have surgery. My lecture was the turning point for him.”

His Road to Obesity

In medical school, Finkbeiner had picked up bad habits. “Like many young teenagers, I was active and ate lots of food, but during medical school when I was sedentary, I gained 100 pounds. Later, I gained another 50 pounds due to ‘stress eating’ and ‘eating my feelings.'”

Addicted to eating, as he puts it, Finkbeiner had repeatedly tried popular diets but tended to lose and regain the same 50 to 60 pounds each year. His struggle felt like riding a roller coaster.

Previously Finkbeiner had contemplated a surgical option for weight loss, but he had mental barriers to overcome — that he was a failure and lacked self-control. “I felt like I should be able to lose weight myself — surgery shouldn’t be necessary.”

Unable to sustain success, by 2017 Finkbeiner had given up dieting. “I calculated that in 10 years I lost and gained 1,000 pounds.”

playing basketball with younger sonEnjoying the game with older sonHappy with the results of his bariatric surgeryFinkbeiner and sons today

The Surgical Procedure

Motivated by the possibility of success through surgery, Finkbeiner completed all the steps to quickly qualify for the procedure, including meeting with a psychologist twice to ensure that he was choosing surgery for the right reasons.

“Many patients consider bariatric surgery for two to three years before choosing that option. Bariatric surgery is an important tool — a last resort for many patients when it comes to weight loss, However, we know that morbidly obese patients who have diabetes are more likely to benefit from bariatric surgery. Their window of being able to respond positively to metabolic surgery is six to eight years. So for those patients, the clock is ticking.”

The procedure Finkbeiner underwent was bariatric sleeve gastrectomy, which removes 75 to 80 percent of the stomach, limiting how much food a person can eat at one time.

Kemmeter explained, “The stomach also empties more quickly, and there are hormonal changes that increase a patient’s metabolism. Hunger decreases, and taste buds change in a way that results in the patient wanting more meat and vegetables rather than carbohydrates. Together these changes lead to significant loss of fat.”

Finkbeiner says it can be a humbling experience for a physician to be a patient and rely on others for care, but “my family and I received fantastic care at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s. That’s why I am confident when I send my patients to Mercy Health.”

Patients typically recover quickly following this procedure. “About 80% of patients go home after one night in the hospital following surgery, which is performed laparoscopically (minimally invasive and with a few small incisions). Initially, a patient’s ‘ job’ is to drink liquids and walk, walk, walk. Most patients return to work in two weeks,” said Kemmeter.

Impressive Results

Finkbeiner’s results have been remarkable and life-changing. “Within six weeks I lost 80 pounds, with a total of 120 pounds to far.” He would like to lose 20 more pounds to reach his goal of weighing 200 pounds.

A much healthier person now, this busy professional finds time to exercise regularly. “I no longer have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, and I’m going to do a sleep study to see if I still need a CPAP for sleep apnea.”

Now physically capable of doing much more, this dad enjoys waterskiing, coaching his son’s indoor soccer team, playing basketball and riding the roller coasters at Cedar Point with his children — which he was unable to do before surgery.

Although Finkbeiner continues to struggle with stress eating, his wife “has been very supportive. She packs healthy lunches for me, and our family has made positive lifestyle changes.”

Before surgery, Finkbeiner’s patients felt comfortable talking with him about their own weight struggles, knowing that he understood. “Now when I meet with patients, they are happy for me they ask, ‘What did you do? I want to do that!'”

Obesity is often a difficult topic to initiate with patients. “My weight loss has opened conversations about options when they struggle with obesity. I can recommend that patients explore this possibility if they have tried everything else. I am confident that the screening process will determine if this type of surgery is a safe choice for them.”

Even with all of these positive results, Finkbeiner says hands down, “the best thing about this decision is that I have hope to see my kids graduate from college and meet my grandkids. I’m not a spectator watching them have fun anymore. We’re having fun together as a family.”

Why attend a seminar about bariatric surgery?

Dr. Kemmeter: “When patients come to a seminar and are feeling embarrassed, frustrated or defeated, I can dispel the myths they may have about obesity and adipose tissue (fat). For the most part, adipose tissue is programmed by a person’s genetics (it can also be affected by one’s environment). Our bodies have a ‘weight set point’ of adipose tissue that is determined by our genetics. Surgery moves that weight set point lower.

Visit to take a take a weight-loss assessment, download a guide to bariatric surgery or register for a FREE live or online seminar.

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