Lucky to be Alive
On Dr. Greg Walton’s 21st birthday, he was on top of the world. Summer was drawing to a close, as was his summer job in the oil industry. Senior year at Oklahoma State University was about to begin and after that, medical school. But all of that would change.
In a devastating oil tank explosion, Walton and another college student were seriously injured. Two were killed. What was not lost, however, was Walton’s determination to become a physician. Miraculously, his eyes and hands were relatively unscathed from the blast. He knows how lucky he is to be alive and has come a long way since that fateful day. Walton now is practicing bariatric medicine in Edmond and in turn, giving others a new lease on their own life.
But Walton will be the first to emphasize that it was a long journey from the accident to today. After the blast, Walton was left with burns over much of his face and body. He spent 55 days in the hospital and underwent 25 operations. He credits his friends and family with helping him cope but adds that it took time and a change of attitude to fully recover emotionally. “When I think back about that and what made me get through it and what may help other people get through it,” he said, “is when I figured out no one was coming to the pity party I was throwing for myself every day, and that made a huge difference.”
People often say things happen for a reason and Walton would likely agree that his accident has helped him connect to patients with more empathy. “When I tell people I know what it’s like to be on the other side of the bed rail, they certainly believe me,” he says. And getting to the doctor side of the bed rail took a great deal of work. Walton returned to school a year after the accident and got into med school as planned. He spent his residency in Alabama before working at the burns and ICU center at Ft. Sam Houston for a year.
It was during his residency that Walton learned about bariatric medicine but was decidedly against doing it in a private practice setting like the one he ran for eight years in Enid. But life had other plans in mind. “It sort of got out that I had done some of (the surgeries). People started working me over to do some on them and of course I thought that was ridiculous but finally they wore me down,” he laughs. When successful, bariatric surgery alters the amount of food a person can physically eat, thereby inducing weight loss for permanent or prolonged periods of time.
But it was when Walton started to see the change that bariatric medicine had in people’s lives that he knew it was his rightful place. “Being a general surgeon is as gratifying as it is but this was gratifying in multiples, to really help people regain their life. Through my experience, it had a huge impact on me and seemed like it was a life calling,” he says.
Since opening WeightWise Bariatric Program in Edmond, Walton says they have done more than 2,000 operations and are working hard to reverse some of the negative stereotypes of bariatric surgery as being dangerous or not long-lasting. He says they have had no deaths in their practice and utilize a system of dietitians and exercise specialists to preserve the changes in a person.
He says that technology has greatly improved and the patients are seeing the changes as a result of that. Walton explains that many patients do not realize how unhappy they were at their preoperative weight until after they have the surgery, because gaining the weight occurs over a long period of time. “They’re just very thankful that they’ve been able to regain their vigor with life.” And Walton certainly can testify to the ability to regain life with vigor.