Kaitlyn S & Beth C Dynamic Duo: Mother and Daughter Bariatric Surgery Success

“I just wish I would have done this surgery 15 years earlier, but I don’t look back. It’s a journey, not a race.”

Kaitlyn Stiefel, an operating room nurse at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) Somerset, used to end her workdays aching all over. At 5 feet, 5 inches, she weighed nearly 300 pounds, which put tremendous stress on her body. “I was always in pain,” the 32-year-old Lopatcong resident remembers. “My back, knees and heels hurt after every shift, and some days I would go home limping.”

Since high school, she had cycled through a half-dozen diet programs plus prescription medication aimed at helping her shed pounds. She often would lose some weight but regain it once she stopped dieting. Frustrated with going from plan to plan, “I wanted a lifestyle change,” she says. Her desire set her on a new path—one her mother would eventually follow, changing both their lives for the better.

A Surgical Solution

David Ward, MD
David Ward, MD

The answer to her struggle, Kaitlyn gradually realized, was right in front of her: At work, she often assisted David Ward, MD, a bariatric surgeon at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) Somerset and a member of RWJBarnabas Health Medical Group, as he performed weight loss surgeries. “Working with Dr. Ward and seeing the surgery took the fear from it,” she says. Early last year, Kaitlyn decided she was ready to try surgery, too—and she wanted Dr. Ward to perform the procedure.

“Kaitlyn approached me in February 2020,” Dr. Ward recalls. But the operation couldn’t happen immediately. To obtain insurance approval, Kaitlyn needed to have several meetings with a nutritionist to assess how her eating habits would need to change. She also saw a psychologist, who evaluated her readiness for surgery. In addition, Kaitlyn received an endoscopy, in which a long, camera-equipped tube was inserted down her throat and into her esophagus to check for ulcers, cancer or other problems that would contraindicate surgery.

Finally, on June 23, Kaitlyn underwent a weight loss procedure called a laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy. Making small incisions, Dr. Ward removed the top and middle portions of Kaitlyn’s stomach, giving the organ a sleeve-like shape. “This makes the stomach less stretchy and lowers its capacity so you can’t eat as much,” Dr. Ward says. Removed stomach portions also contain cells that produce hunger hormones when people reduce calories, a response that can sabotage weight loss efforts. With this procedure, those cells were eliminated, too. After a night in the hospital, Kaitlyn returned home.

As Kaitlyn progressed from a liquid diet to solid foods, she noticed a difference in her appetite and stomach capacity. She was able to consume more as the postoperative swelling went down, but large meals became a thing of the past. “Today, the amount I can eat is probably comparable to a child’s plate at a restaurant,” she says. She also changed her eating habits, emphasizing protein and cutting back on carbohydrates and sugar.

The pounds fell away quickly. Kaitlyn now weighs 173 pounds—120 less than before. While she once wore the second-largest-sized scrubs at work, she now slips into the next-to-smallest size. “My coworkers joke around,” she says. “They’re like, ‘You’re disappearing!’”

Inspiring Her Mother

No one was more impressed with Kaitlyn’s weight loss than her mother, Beth Cordes, of Lebanon Township. The 56-year-old private client associate at an investment firm had also struggled with her weight. “I have done every diet, every program,” she says.

About 20 years ago, Beth had lap band surgery in which an adjustable belt was placed around the upper part of her stomach, limiting its size and capacity and slowing the passage of food to her intestines. “I lost the weight, but over the years it crept back on,” she says. Efforts to adjust the belt resulted in nausea and vomiting, and the belt caused complications that landed her in the hospital. “I decided to have it taken off,” she says.

Kaitlyn’s success encouraged Beth to try a laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy. “I saw how relatively painless and effortless it was to have done,” Beth says. After fulfilling the requirements for insurance approval, she had Dr. Ward perform the procedure in September 2020. “Kaitlyn was assisting with a procedure in the operating room next to mine and kept tabs on me,” she says.

Beth was struck by how pleasant the staff was during her brief hospital stay after the operation. “The nurses who came in were like my best friends—it’s like we knew each other, even though they had never met me before,” she says. Dr. Ward felt like family, she says. RWJUH Somerset “is top-notch,” she says. “I would absolutely recommend it.”

Beth once weighed nearly 250 pounds. Today she’s 60 pounds lighter. “I’ve gone down three or four sizes,” she says. “People don’t even recognize me! I’ve cut my hair shorter because my face got thinner.”

To stay fit, she and Kaitlyn now take 10-mile walks along the nearby Columbia trail. “I just wish I would have done this surgery 15 years earlier,” Beth says. “But I don’t look back. It’s a journey, not a race.” As Kaitlyn reflects on their combined 180-pound weight loss, she can’t help but agree. “It’s hard work, and every day is a challenge,” she says. “But it’s worth it.”

Learn more information about weight loss surgery at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset.