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After bariatric surgery, Dorwatha wants to help others who struggle with obesity

Dorwatha Woods, a principal at a Minneapolis school, lost 157 pounds following bariatric surgery at University of Minnesota Medical Center.
Dorwatha Woods, a principal at a Minneapolis school, lost 157 pounds following bariatric surgery at University of Minnesota Medical Center.

Dorwatha Woods believes in miracles. But Woods, who is the principal of Ascension Catholic School in North Minneapolis, says it isn’t just a matter of faith.

Her evidence that miracles really happen? The reflection she sees in her mirror every morning.

Woods, who has struggled with obesity since childhood, decided two years ago that it was time to seek medical help. She made an appointment with University of Minnesota Health Bariatric Surgeon Daniel Leslie, MD. When Leslie first looked at her chart, Woods, who is about five feet, five inches tall, weighed 345 pounds.

On Nov. 1, 2013, Woods underwent a gastric bypass—an operation that removed a portion of her stomach and rearranged her small intestines. The surgery limited her food intake and caloric absorption. A year after surgery, her weight had dropped below 200. Today, her scale reads 188.

Read more about gastric bypass surgery and other bariatric surgery options.

As she approaches the second anniversary of her operation, Woods said she’s “eternally grateful” to Leslie and his care team—not just because of the weight loss her care team helped her achieve, but because of the personal, caring touch she’s felt ever since that first appointment.

“I was nervous going into surgery, but the team came and stood around my bed before I was put under,” Woods said. After they put her at ease, she realized: “This is the team of people I want taking care of me.”

Leslie is quick to point out that bariatric surgery works best when patients use it as a springboard to a healthier lifestyle. “Woods is a phenomenal example of a patient who understood that the operation is not magic—just a tool that paves the way for better food choices and eating behaviors,” Leslie said.

Bariatric surgery is not the first line of defense against over-eating, Leslie said. A body mass index (BMI) of 18.5 to 25 is generally considered healthy. In general, Leslie said, surgery is only recommended for patients who are obese with a body mass index of 40 or more (roughly 100 pounds overweight) or obese with more severe medical problems, such as diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, or heart disease with a BMI of 35 or more (roughly 70 pounds overweight).

Learn more about weight loss surgery at University of Minnesota Medical Center.

Obesity ran in Woods’ family. She also grew up eating southern cuisine, including “ham hocks, chitlins, vegetables always covered with butter—stuff that can kill you.” And she learned early on that when life got hard, food provided a way to “eat away the pain.”

By the time she became principal of Ascension, Woods said she was miserable.

“I had high blood pressure, fibromyalgia … doctors would look at me and say, ‘she’s a walking time bomb.’ I could not sit down on people’s furniture without really looking at it for fear I would fall through. I couldn’t fit between the racks at stores. I had to get a specialized bicycle with steel everything, so it wouldn’t collapse under me.”

To reduce the risk of obesity for the children at her school, Woods emphasized healthy eating programs.

“I changed the whole school-nutrition program to everything fresh. We banned fried foods. We started gardens around the whole school so the kids could grow their own vegetables. But I wasn’t exemplifying what I teach. I knew all these children were watching me, and I needed to take it a step further.”

Two years after her surgery, that awareness continues to inspire Woods.

“I want my life to be an example to other people that are struggling with this. The only day I don’t check the scale is when I’m out of town. I’m still exercising every day and still working to tighten everything up.”

Like other bariatric surgery patients, Dorwatha continues to work with Leslie and his team of M Health specialists. The care team performs roughly 200 bariatric surgeries a year.

“They gave my life back to me,” Woods said.