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Lost 130 Pounds; Gained New Energy for Life: Cloquet Woman's Success After Weight Loss Surgery at St. Luke's

Category: Patient Stories
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Published in The Woman Today magazine, August/September issue

Lost 130 Pounds; Gained New Energy for Life

Divine intervention. That’s what Alexsis Saarela, a Cloquet wife and mother of two, said led her to one of the best decisions of her life: having weight loss surgery.

Alexsis saw a friend’s Facebook post and learned she had lost 150 pounds. Having only known this friend as thin, Alexsis was intrigued. “I sent her a message saying ‘I have that much weight to lose and I would love to hear your story’.”

The friend revealed she’d had weight loss surgery. “I immediately told her I’d be way too scared,” recalls Alexsis. “But then my friend looked at me very seriously and said, ‘you’re going to die from obesity-related complications before you ever die from this surgery’.”

Grateful for the unvarnished truth, Alexsis boldly moved forward. She went to a surgical weight loss information session at St. Luke’s the following week, and had her initial consult with a surgeon a week later. That was in March 2017, and it kicked off a six-month journey to prepare for surgery.

A Well-Planned Journey

“Having weight loss surgery is a big decision, and we partner with patients to make sure it’s right for them,” explains Dr. John Bollins, St. Luke’s Surgical Associates. Bollins and fellow surgeon Dr. Jennifer Witt, lead St. Luke’s Surgical Weight Loss Program. They follow a proven process of preparing patients for weight loss surgery, focused on appointments with doctors, dietitians and psychologists.

“We need to know patients are committed to following the liquid diet for the two weeks before and after surgery, and that they understand the lifestyle changes that will come after weight loss surgery,” says Dr. Bollins. “We also want them to know that, if they are the right candidate, how incredibly positive this surgery can be for their lifelong health.”

Alexsis recalls how smooth her journey was, “When I make a decision, I’m all in. I told myself it was going to be really hard, but it actually felt super easy.”

Support of Family

“My family was not in favor of this surgery at first so I included them in the process,” says Alexsis. “My mom went to the info session with me and said she was so sad it’s come to this and I just looked at her and said, ‘This isn’t sad for me. This is super empowering, and I’m so excited’.”

Since that day, her mom has been her biggest cheerleader.

Biggest Fears Not Realized, But Biggest Dreams Are

Alexsis had gastric sleeve surgery at St. Luke’s on November 9, 2017. During the two-hour operation, the surgeon removed about 80% of her stomach. That decreases the amount of food the stomach can hold—and the number of calories that can be consumed.

“In addition, the part of the stomach removed is where the hormones that stimulate hunger, control blood sugar, and the sensation of fullness are made,” explains Dr. Witt. “So when those hormones are no longer being secreted, there is less hunger, more feeling full, and better blood sugar control.”

Alexsis went home the day after surgery, and has never looked back.

“One of my biggest fears was that world around me would be enjoying life and I would feel super deprived,” recalls Alexsis. “But I never felt that. I don’t feel one ounce of deprivation. If I want something, I have it, in such a small amount yet it is so satisfying. One bite of cheeseburger gives me the same satisfaction eating a whole cheeseburger used to.”

Her dreams of losing weight have been realized tenfold. She’s shed more than 130 pounds and is still losing weight. She has more energy to care for her husband and two daughters, which was one of her biggest goals. “My daughters are 4 and 8, and my older daughter has cerebral palsy,” explains Alexsis. “She uses a wheelchair and I do her lifting and transferring. Being physically able to care for her and meet her needs is essential.”

Notable changes

Alexsis notices little things every day that make her smile, as she realizes how different her life is in less than a year. “I drive a minivan and before, having to squeeze into the back seat to move a car seat was so difficult. Now I fly back there with ease. We have a cabin and we’d have all the regular chairs sitting outside along with my special chair that could hold extra weight. It seemed like someone was always sitting in my chair and I’d have to ask them to move. That was always so uncomfortable. Now I don’t have to worry about it,” says Alexsis.

Alexsis shares her story because she is proud of herself. “I’m living my best life. I look good, I feel good.”

St. Luke’s surgeons say there is nothing more rewarding than helping patients like Alexsis. “There are many people who make the dietary and lifestyle changes to become a healthier weight and just need another tool to reach their goals or keep the weight off. The gastric sleeve is a very potent and sustainable tool to fill that niche,” says Dr. Witt. “It’s an honor to help patients achieve their goals if the sleeve is the tool they’ve been needing.”

To learn more or sign up for a free info session, visit

Alexsis Saarela before and after surgery: