When Dr. T. Ryan Heider first entered UNC Chapel Hill medical school in 1999, he envisioned a career as a surgeon.
What he didn't know then was that the specific specialty he would choose - bariatric surgery - would wind up changing the lives of so many people.
Heider, 37, is medical director of the Center for Surgical Weight Loss at Lake Norman Regional Medical Center. He and his family live in The Point in Mooresville.
During the past several years, he has shepherded the opening of a medical suite on Professional Park Drive and has also helped pioneer a new procedure in North Carolina, sleeve gastrectomy.
"This wasn't exactly the type of surgery I thought about when I first went to medical school, but as I continued in my residency at UNC, I became very interested in bariatric procedures," said Heider. "More and more, I saw a need for procedures which would benefit patients with the least amount of cutting."
Bariatric surgery is designed to help people lose weight after other methods have been exhausted. Some insurers, including Medicare and Medicaid, will cover the surgery in cases where other methods have demonstrably failed.
Take Dawn Bateman, 46, who lives in the Cedarfield section of Huntersville. She began the pre-surgical screening process in the summer of 2010. At 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighing 340 pounds, she was desperate for help.
"I was experiencing extreme discomfort in everything I did, my quality of life was suffering and traditional dieting was just not working," said Bateman.
She passed the pre-surgical screening during which a post-surgery weight target was established. The operation was successfully completed in December 2010, and today Bateman weighs 140 pounds less.
"I'm close but not quite to target weight yet," she said.
She had nothing but praise for Heider and his team.
"He has a vision for the patient and really understands their needs," said Bateman. "The office staff is also terrific. There never was a question that I was afraid to ask."
Bateman's surgery was not covered by her insurer, but some insurance companies offer coverage with limitations for the weight-loss procedures, which can run upwards of $15,000. The process from initial visit to the actual surgery can take up to six months as prospective patients go through an intensive series of pre-surgical seminars and interviews. Heider attends many of these meetings and has a staff of six to assist. Post-surgical seminars are also provided.
About 80 percent of the patients are female, ranging in age from 18 to 60. Patients come from as far away as Florida and Massachusetts.
Heider and his wife, Angela, moved to Mooresville in 2006. Heider enjoys playing basketball and tennis, and as a family they enjoy boating and camping.
The Heiders have watched the practice grow as they raise four children.
"We're changing the lives of these patients in need for the better," said Heider.
Bateman will attest to that. The Indiana native now has a personal trainer and is about to start a new job in Charlotte.
"The doctor and his team really bring a great deal of trust and understanding to the patient and the process," she said.