Bariatric surgery helped Sherry Poret of Duke Clinical Research Institute lose around 100 pounds. Photos courtesy of Sherry Poret.

Over the years, Sherry Poret tried diet programs, workout plans and other ways to get healthy. But with 278 pounds clinging to her 5-foot, 6-inch frame, she felt trapped in a body that didn’t allow her to live how she wanted.

She recalls a day when her young granddaughter, Lily, turned to her and said, “Mimi, you never play hide-and-seek with me.”

With her knees in pain due to her weight, Poret could only respond, “Baby, you know I can’t.”

Now, Poret is 100 pounds lighter and a much nimbler playtime partner.

“I wasn’t ready to feel that old,” said Poret, 60, clinical lead for the Early Phase Clinical Research Unit of the Duke Clinical Research Institute.

In 2016, to address her obesity-related painful knees and Type-2 diabetes, Poret had bariatric surgery at Duke Regional Hospital. The surgery encompasses a variety of procedures that reduce stomach size or change the routing of the small intestine, altering the body’s internal signals controlling feelings of hunger.

The service, while pursued by a small number of employees each year, is available under several of Duke’s medical plans, including Duke Select, the most popular plan among employees. To receive the procedure, employees must have at least two years of service, meet certain medical criteria – such as a body mass index greater than 40, or greater than 35 with other health problems – and complete a three-month Pathways to Change health coaching program. There is a $2,500 surgical co-pay.

“Bariatric surgery is no magic bullet,” said Dana Portenier, division chair for metabolic and weight loss surgery for the Duke Department of Surgery. “Obesity is truly a chronic disease. It’s always fighting to come back, so patients have to use every tool in their toolbox to fight that. Bariatric surgery puts a big dent in it, but they need to continue the lifelong attempts at all their behavioral therapies to beat it back.”

A variety of services are available to Duke employees to fight chronic conditions. LIVE FOR LIFE, Duke’s employee wellness program, provides free consultations with nutritionists, discount rates to gyms and group fitness opportunities such as the Duke Run/Walk Club.

Three years after her surgery, Poret’s new diet consists of small meals targeted toward her nutritional needs. Her Type-2 diabetes is gone, and, after surgery on her right knee, she’s able to exercise on a recumbent bike.

And she’s not missing any fun of being a grandmother. She’ll visit Walt Disney World with granddaughter Lily this fall and celebrate her daughter’s master’s degree on a cruise in January.

“I’m just happy and proud that I can be a part of all this,” Poret said.