Weight Loss Surgery is Changing Lives

May 5, 2018

Shirley Bearden of Fort Smith faced a lifesaving decision in 2010. After losing 160 pounds, that decision literally put her on the run.

When Bearden was 54 years old, she had a body mass index of 48. If the label of being “morbidly obese” wasn’t enough of a medical red flag, her other medical conditions were.

“I ended up in the hospital with bad asthma and had several co-morbidities on top of that,” she said of being an insulin-dependent diabetic with high blood pressure and sleep apnea. “I didn’t know the asthma was weight-related.”

Up to that point, Bearden declined her doctor’s recommendation to have bariatric surgery. “I’d think, ‘It’s just weight. I can lose it,’” she said.

Her health deteriorated to the point where the Mercy nurse walked into work from the parking lot one day and was so short of breath that she was sent to the emergency department and admitted to the intensive care unit because of difficulty breathing.

“I didn’t think I was going to live to see 60,” she recalled. “My doctor said, ‘Shirley, I don’t know whether we can keep you alive another year.’”

Bearden finally agreed to have gastric-bypass surgery. In the process of losing 160 pounds the first year and a half, she found a desire to get in better physical shape.

She started walking from her front door to the mailbox. “That was far as I could go,” she recalled. Eventually, she worked her way up to walking 5 miles in an hour and 10 minutes.

“One day I thought, ‘Maybe I can run.’ I ran a couple of blocks and thought, ‘What was I thinking?’”

Not one to back down from a challenge, Bearden kept working at it and slowly increased the distance she could run. By 2012, two years after her surgery, she was running in 5-kilometer races. Like many runners, she progressed to 10Ks, half marathons and marathons. Her first half marathon was in 2013 and she has run in almost 30 to date, as well as eight marathons.

“To go from being short of breath after walking to my mailbox to being able to do 26.2 miles in a marathon is amazing,” she said. “I cried so hard after I finished my first half marathon and first marathon because they are accomplishments I never saw in my future before the surgery.”

Bearden’s first marathon was in January 2016 at Disney World in Florida.

“I signed up for it without researching it,” she said of the Goofy Challenge, which she thought was just a marathon. Actually, it was a half marathon one day and a marathon the next, for a total of 39.3 miles in two days.

“I would never recommend that for someone running a marathon for the first time,” she said. “I went ahead and did it because I’m going to take on any challenge I sign up for. I was worried I couldn’t do it but was going to try.”

Bearden ran as long as she could, then would walk until she was ready to run again. “I was going to crawl if I had to.” She finished in 6 hours, 54 minutes. “It made the next marathon easier because I knew I could do it.”

As tough as the first marathon was for Bearden, now 62, it was nothing like her most recent, the London Marathon, which she completed April 22. It was the highest temperature ever for the England event and resulted in the death of a runner who collapsed at 22.5 miles.

The organizers ran out of water, but London residents along the route pitched in by bringing pitchers of water and bags of ice cubes. To top it off, Bearden suffered a foot injury in the 21st mile but was determined to finish and did.

After spending most of what is now a 31-year career as a Mercy paramedic and nurse, the former police officer became such an advocate for bariatric surgery that she was asked to become Mercy Fort Smith’s bariatric program coordinator in 2012. Now she gets to share her story with others who are seeking bariatric surgery.

“I talk about myself like it’s two different people. Before, it was she and her. Now it’s I. I am no longer asthmatic and take no medication at all,” she said. “I celebrated when I turned 60 because I made it. I went from not having a future to living a phenomenal life.”


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One in three American adults struggle with obesity and that’s bad for their health. Obesity increases your risk for heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and other serious health conditions.

Chances are you know someone living with obesity and the struggles that often accompany it. For many of these people, weight loss surgery can help. Studies show that following surgery patients are healthier, with fewer obesity-related conditions. Often they report improvements in their lifestyle and relationships.  Bariatric surgery provides a way for them to lose weight and regain their health.

Choosing to have a bariatric procedure is a serious, life-altering decision. At Mercy, we think it’s important for patients to understand the benefits, risks and outcomes of various weight loss procedures; so they can make an informed decision.

If you or someone you love has been living with chronic illnesses associated with obesity, our free guide can help. Download it now and take the first step toward a healthier tomorrow. 

More Life-Changing Stories at Mercy

Am I Eligible for Weight Loss Surgery?

Bariatric surgery is a great way to help build a healthy lifestyle, but it's not for everyone. For weight loss surgery to be a viable option, patients must meet the following criteria:

You're 100 pounds or more over your ideal weight and have one of the following conditions:

  1. A body mass index, or BMI, between 35 and 40, and
    • Diabetes
    • Sleep Apnea
    • High Blood Pressure
    • Your weight is causing health problems
  2. Or have a BMI of 40 or more and none of the above health conditions.

Calculate My BMI 

Disclaimer: Surgery may be associated with its own set of problems, such as infection, poor wound healing, and rarely even death. Therefore, you and your surgeon should carefully discuss the risks of your current health condition compared to the risks and benefits of surgery.


With Mercy's help, Terry Messenger lost 240 pounds. Have your own story you'd like to share? Send Mercy a message at www.Facebook.com/FollowMercy.


Bariatrics is simply the field of medicine focused on obesity, its causes, prevention and treatments. Bariatric surgery is divided into two different approaches to helping treat obesity: restrictive, where the stomach's size and capacity are reduced, and malabsorption, where the stomach's ability to absorb calories and nutrients is reduced.

At Mercy Bariatrics our team of leading experts is ready to help you meet your weight loss and health goals. We provide a variety of surgical procedures including gastric bypass, gastric sleeve and gastric banding. We also offer intragastric balloons, a temporary, non-surgical weight loss solution that may be right for you. In addition to your primary care physician, we call on our psychologists, dietitians, physical therapists, cardiologists and surgeons to ensure your success. Bariatric surgery is just one part of your lifelong commitment to better health, but we're here to help.


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Mercy, named one of the top five large U.S. health systems in 2018, 2017 and 2016 by Watson Health, an IBM company, serves millions annually. Mercy includes more than 40 acute care and specialty (heart, children’s, orthopedic and rehab) hospitals, 800 physician practices and outpatient facilities, 44,000 co-workers and 2,100 Mercy Clinic physicians in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has clinics, outpatient services and outreach ministries in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. In addition, Mercy's IT division, Mercy Technology Services, supply chain organization, ROi, and Mercy Virtual commercially serve providers and patients in more than 20 states coast to coast.

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