Patients in Dr. James Dasher’s Kernersville, North Carolina, office are always inspired when they meet his surgery scheduler, Nakesha Rousseau Freeman.

That’s because Rousseau Freeman, 44, does much more than arrange procedures at Novant Health Bariatric Solutions - Kernersville. A former surgical patient herself, she now helps patients prepare, addresses their concerns and talks them through what to expect.

Through her, patients can glimpse their own healthier future.

“This is more than a job to me,” she said. “People who struggle with their weight typically have related health issues. This program allows people to get back to the things they love, to feel better about themselves.”

While dramatic weight loss is a result of bariatric surgery, it’s not why Dasher and his partners perform these surgeries. It’s about overall health, quality of life and longevity.

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Bariatric surgery addresses four high-risk health conditions:

  • High blood pressure.
  • High cholesterol.
  • Type 2 diabetes.
  • Sleep apnea.

Rousseau Freeman had high cholesterol, but not the other three. However, other conditions improve as a result of this surgery. The risk of breast cancer goes down by as much as 60% to 70%, Dasher said. The risk of osteoarthritis decreases, too.

Because the treatment plan focuses on health more than weight loss, the multidisciplinary team is composed of all the providers a patient needs to be successful – dietitians, nurses, nutritionists, behavioral health professionals.

‘In someone else’s body’

Rousseau Freeman’s weight wasn’t always an issue.

“Growing up, I was tiny,” she said. “I was a dancer and a high school cheerleader. When I got older and put on weight, I felt like I was in someone else’s body. I really started feeling that way after the birth of my second child. I started looking at myself and thinking: ‘What am I going to do?’”

At her heaviest, she was between 190 and 200 – a lot for her 4'10” frame. She tried many diets, and they’d work for a while but not for the long term. She used to try on clothes and dislike how she looked– and then avoid parties and events because she couldn’t find anything to wear.

But that was the least of her worries.

Dr. James Dasher

The health issues obesity can bring on are serious. And too often, unaddressed. “Obesity is the elephant in the room,” Dasher said. “Even some primary care physicians seem reluctant to address obesity as the health risk it is.

“If you have a suspicious mammogram – or an EKG shows an irregular heart rhythm – you’d get called in for more tests right away. No one messes around with those concerns. But when some doctors encounter obese patients, they soft-pedal it. We need to treat it much more urgently.”

In addition to putting on weight, Rousseau Freeman had begun experiencing painful symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) while pregnant with her first child in 2005. Over-the-counter medication didn’t help, and her symptoms persisted after her second baby was born. “The heavier I was, the worse the GERD became,” she said. “It was frustrating and scary. It would hit in the middle of the night, and I’d jump up and vomit. I’d get heartburn from just drinking water.”

No magic bullet

In 2021, while working on the mother-baby unit at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center, she kept hearing about Novant Health’s nearby bariatrics center. Rousseau Freeman registered for a surgical seminar held over Zoom. That led her to make an appointment with Dasher, who asked why she wanted surgery. Her answer: To get healthy.

She understood the work involved on her part – and she was ready.

“I tell people all the time: This is not the easy way out,” she said.

She also stresses to patients: “Your mental attitude about food and overall eating has to change in order for this tool to be successful.”

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