Skip to content

A Trailblazer of Lap Band Surgery Reveals
Her 18 Years of Weight Loss Journey


A Trailblazer of Lap Band Surgery Reveals
Her 18 Years of Weight Loss Journey

Felicity Cohen: Hello, I’m Felicity Cohen.

I’m so excited to introduce you to my Wellness Warriors Podcast. For over 20 years, I’ve been a passionate advocate for helping thousands of Australians. Find solutions to treating obesity and health related complications. Through surgical intervention and holistic managed care.

My podcast is dedicated to all the people past, present, and future who has helped you my journey and continue to, by me to work consistently to achieve a healthier Australia in both adults and future generations. I hope you enjoy it.

Welcome to my Wellness Warriors Podcast, Vicki Vonner.

I’m so excited to have you here. I can’t even describe it. So one of the reasons behind, starting this podcast is as you know, I started my career about 20 years ago. Next year marks my 21st year in working in this bariatrics surgical world of craziness. And you know, the growth and development and changes that I’ve witnessed over that time are just incredible. Not just in terms of, medical and surgical technology and the procedures that we now offer, but in the bigger picture, in terms of how we manage our patients. It’s just changed so much.

So one of the things that I really wanted to do, with launching this Wellness Warriors Podcast, was really talk to people who have had a great impact, not just on my journey and my career, but have just meant so much to me in this business. And that is why I reached out to you because we first met in 2002.

I find that just incredible now to actually look back and think, wow, it’s 18 years ago.

You were actually one of the very, more avant-garde patients, you know, looking into surgery 18 years ago, was still pretty new and perception out in the population, especially even with GPs’ was,

Vicky Bonner: non-existent.

Felicity Cohen:It was still a bit taboo. Do you agree?

Vicky Bonner: Yes, it was. You couldn’t get anyone to actually give you a referral to come and see anybody about it. It was the thing that they hadn’t gone into, they hadn’t discussed it or they haven’t known a lot about it. It was very, very new.

Felicity Cohen:So you were quite a trendsetter. I mean really thinking back 2002, I started working in this field and in the year 2000, and in 2000, we probably did maybe 50 bariatrics procedures in total.

And the growth over time has been phenomenal. And so has acceptance and the political kind of landscape and attitudes towards management of obesity has just changed so much. So what were you thinking when you first started thinking about having a gastric band, which was the only thing we could offer you in those days?

Why and what were you thinking in that, at that particular point in time? Can you cast your mind back?

Vicky Bonner: Yeah, it was. It was something that well, back in those days, there wasn’t, phones and, media, on paper was the only way you could read about it. And it was in the paper that I actually read about it.

And my husband said, well, why don’t we go down to the seminar and have a listen? And that’s when we met all you guys down at the seminar and then became like an instant family type of thing, a second family. Where you, your support, your, if you had a problem, it was just a phone call away. It was just so helpful.

90% of the time you were on call 20, almost 24 hours, but not 24 hours. 12 hours a day. You could reach somebody and they were able to help you, but you couldn’t go to your GP because they still don’t have the knowledge and perception of what, a gastric band is. The, when, I mean you guys introduced me to flying, you’ve introduced me to overseas.

Here in Australia, we still don’t have the concept of small meals. And if you say you want a child’s meal, it still was frowned on. Even I get it still today. If you ask for a small meal, you still don’t get it. Whereas in America, it’s big over there. You can walk in and say, “I just want a small meal”, and they’ll give it to you, no problems at all.

But our society, they still prefer to have big portions, big meals. I see it all the time. It’s just not a thing.

Felicity Cohen: I think that’s really interesting. And I, you know, often what the dieticians will talk about. They, they use the term portion distortion and, you know, we often talk about how.

Plates have got so big that we can hardly fit them in our dishwashers anymore.

Vicky Bonner: That’s right.

Felicity Cohen:Then portions have grown and how we value people and how restaurants kind of try and look for what is value for a customer. It’s often about size and it’s grown out of proportion and it’s clearly unhealthy.

Vicky Bonner: No. Well, I mean, I actually have a little card that was given to me by one of the workers here to take overseas. And, I’ve used it a couple of times here and the restaurant looked at me as if to say, “Is that valid? Is it a real card?”.

And I go, yeah, it, yes. And they don’t understand it. And a lot of people nowadays, I mean I’m old school because I’ve got the lap band and I still find that the lap band is more, I’ve got more control rather than a sleeve because I can do, have an adjustment or I can have it let out or make it tighter. Do my own thing with my own brain. Don’t know much about the, the sleeve, but I mean, I’ve had, I know a few people that have had the sleeves and they go, yeah, well, my brain wouldn’t shut down. So I had to have the sleeve because, it wouldn’t go, “I’m full!”

Felicity Cohen:They’re so different in terms of how they how they work and how they function. But in 2002, there was no other solution and you’ve learned to live well, with your band. And, you know, I think it’s an important point to make that the gastric band has been an amazing procedure and that there are thousands upon thousands of patients who’ve done well with bands.

Unfortunately it wasn’t the right procedure for everybody. We’re really lucky with where we’re at now.

Vicky Bonner: You’ve got so many more options. you’ve still got the balloon, the sleeve. I don’t, you,

Felicity Cohen:Good work, Vicky I’m impressed.

You know all about it. Can I just talk to you a little bit about the GP perception?

Because I think that’s a problem that obviously that change has occurred drastically. Now you’ll find that a lot more GPs’ are supportive, but you were the starting point. Patients were the ones who actually educated the doctors.
Vicky Bonner: That’s right.

Felicity Cohen:How do you feel that relationship with your own GP changed over time watching you actually achieve?

Vicky Bonner: She took a while to accept it, to the stage that it was like, “Oh, okay. So it is actually working. It is doing what you wanted, you are achieving.”.

I don’t know whether they had seminars or went to counseling, but it did take, oh, probably a good five, maybe six years for her to actually come around and actually accept it.

I had it done and yes, it’s working, so we’ll just leave it at that sort of thing. But now their attitude towards all the other procedures now has changed dramatically. So obviously we’ve educated them enough to bring them into the 20th century of moving forward with weight and distribution of working with it. And, I mean, I’ve got my own daughter, the youngest one, and she keeps going in and they keep saying to her, “Oh no, no, no.”. You know, and she keeps saying, “I’ve tried all the diets, done everything. It’s just not working” and they kept saying, well, keep trying, but I know if she had the money, she’d do something else.

But at the moment she doesn’t have the money. Because she’s got a, have just bought a house. So she’s in a catch 22. But, but that doctor, you know, the younger doctors are saying, “Just keep trying do this, do that, weight portions, back to portions again.”

But the older doctors are coming around, they’re coming around to talking about talking about it. I mean, they do talk to her about it. Yeah, but, not to the degree of knowing, but I mean, I’m sure she knows more than what the doctors know from my experience with having it and having them done, more than what the doctors do.

Felicity Cohen:I love that our patients were actually the advocates and those who were educating the GP population in those days, because I feel that you’ve actually made such a big impact on the whole industry associated with weight loss surgery, by having that voice where you’re actually connecting and going back and talking to your doctors and exposing them to this whole new world, that they were not really aware of.

And to be honest, in many ways, we’re quite anti the whole solution around exploring surgery. It was still in 2002, and the reason I say that you were so avant-garde, and such a trendsetter was, it was still really considered to be, taboo, last resort where the words and the dialogue that we used to hear all the time back in early two thousands,

Vicky Bonner: They still do, sometimes.

Felicity Cohen:It was considered to be last resort, dangerous surgery. And so I feel it’s really important to talk to the people who’ve been involved in changing that whole reception, the dialogue, and the thought process around it is acceptable.

Vicky Bonner: Yeah, you’ve got to be in the right mind. You’ve got to know that it’s not the end all to, to end all, but you’ve got to have the right mind to want it done.

If you don’t have the right mind, you only doing it for cosmetic reasons rather than for your own health, I think that is wrong. I think you should do it for your own, sorry, I think you should do that for your own health rather than, just cosmetic.

I know of people that have tried lots of things and they all come back. Like, I mean, I was tabooed, like when I had it done. It’s, it was quite funny. I had it done. And then I went away 12 months later and I got, my husband got accused of getting rid of me because there was a new lady in his life. No, it’s still the same one.

Felicity Cohen:That’s so funny. That’s hilarious.

Vicky Bonner: About 15 people come up and went, they’re all whispering behind my back and I’m going, it’s still me. It’s just me. It’s just, “Oh, what have you done?”

“I said I’ve lost some weight”, and they’ve all gone. “Oh, okay.”

You know, and they were, Oh, that’s too. Yeah. That’s drastic having, having that done. I said, well, I haven’t had anything done.

I’ve just had a little thing put around my tummy. It’s a band, I can control what I want. I don’t have to have it there, but I choose to. And 18 years, it’s still there, it’s not going anywhere. I’m not taking it out. It’s still there.

Felicity Cohen:It’s actually funny what people used to think and how they used to see. To see you or to see another friend or colleague, what their perception was around having surgery in those days.

And, you know, I know if we go back 18 years ago, people were terrified to tell their friends. Because they were so scared of that reflection and how their friends would react to that.

Vicky Bonner: That’s exactly right. And I’m getting back to you, GP, like I had to go and get a referral from her. And she was like, “Ooh, you’re going to do that. Ooh, that’s very, you know”.

I went, well, I’m going to give something a go. I need to give something, a go for my life, my family. And, so I did it and it’s like, well, it does actually have all the concepts of it all is, “Oh, it does actually work. She’s looking good. She’s doing this.”.

And then when people started saying, “Oh, look at you, ra ra ra ra, yay.”.

It’s done. It just worked. It’s fantastic. But do you still get the ones that go, “Oh, so drastic? You know”.

It wasn’t, it was when they first invented keyhole surgery.

Felicity Cohen:Yeah, absolutely.

Vicky Bonner: Cause there was no big scars. There’s just these little pricks.

Felicity Cohen:So tell us about some of the things that were important to you before you had your surgery, were there medical concerns for you that were impacting your life?
Were you concerned about potential medical risk?

Vicky Bonner: My weight was my biggest thing because, my mum was always big and I wanted to lose some weight because I had two active young girls that were running around everywhere and I wanted to do that and I couldn’t do it, walk around.

I’d lost quite a bit of weight and, it made me feel better. It made me, happier in myself, personality wise. Keeping me occupied? No, but it gave me a new lease on life and doing different things. I think we went to Sydney together, to Wollongong.

Felicity Cohen:So let’s just talk about that. So Vicky, I know you’d never actually gone on an airplane. We kind of pushed boundaries and got you to step out of your comfort zone.

First of all, you’ve gone and had a gastric band. It was quite radical.

Vicky Bonner: My first surgery.

Felicity Cohen:In 2002 you had surgery, you know, you’re looking at changing your life. And then we say, let’s go and jump on a plane together and go and run a seminar in Wollongong. And you’re like, well, I’ve never actually been on a plane before.

I think I might’ve held your hands on that plane.

Vicky Bonner: You did. You and Carol.

Felicity Cohen:And since then, that’s actually allowed you to step outside of your comfort zone and do things that you might never have done.

Vicky Bonner: That’s exactly right.

Felicity Cohen:So where have you flown to since?

Vicky Bonner: Oh, we’ve been to America twice. We’ve been to New Zealand.

We’ve been to Phuket.

Felicity Cohen:That’s just fantastic. So you got the travel bug from that first little trip down to Wollongong?

Vicky Bonner: Yes!

Felicity Cohen:That is so exciting. I love that.

Vicky Bonner: I always get on the plane and I go, “Oh Felicity, where are you?”

Felicity Cohen:You know, what, if that’s a benefit and a bonus, of your weight loss surgery, look at how life changing that can be in itself.

Yeah. I love it. It’s great. What about on family? And, you know, you’ve got two girls they’re now grown up. They’re leading their own lives, but you know, when I first met you, obviously, you know, part of the motivation was to impact your family and to have more energy, to be more mobile and to be able to run around after your kids, as you mentioned.

What change have you seen in the whole family since you’ve had your surgery?

Vicky Bonner: Oh, they’ve been great. They, they think it’s great. And with the granddaughter now, she’s eight, eight on Thursday.

She’s just as active as a mother and her auntie, and it’s like, “Come on, Nanny, you got to do this. You got to do that.”.

“Yes. Yes. I’m coming. I’m coming!”

I’m not used to racing after a little one.

Yeah, I’ve had her since she was three months old. So I’ve, sort of like second mum. So it’s like given me, like running around after her and taking her to school and Dre’s taking her there and there, and everywhere. It’s a bit hard to find options to take her somewhere on holidays though.

Felicity Cohen:But you’ve found that physically you’ve been able to engaged in so much more.

Vicky Bonner: Yep.

Felicity Cohen:I know that one of the things that you and your husband love doing is, with your vintage cars and car rallies.

How do you feel that that’s been different for you with weight loss over the years?

Vicky Bonner: Oh, being able to help more, do more. I actually drive it more now, so, it’s yeah, it keeps me going.

It’s like, well, when you’ve got five of them, four going, one project. You’re sort of out there doing all the help as well, the sanding and bogging and getting dirty.

Felicity Cohen:Amazing, wow. Good on you.

So tell us about some of the highlights over the last 18 years. What would you say would be highlights that are really, you know, punctuated by weight loss that have made a difference to you in your, in your life?

Vicky Bonner: Probably all the friends that I’ve made. Here through the years. I mean, I know they’ve changed staff a lot, but I mean, all my friends here, it’s like a different family.

It’s like a little family, all on its own. It’s brought me out of my shell a little bit more at home, given me more determination to do things. I help my husband now with the new business. So it’s, it’s made me more of a stronger person, more independent, more knowledgeable of what I want to do and help and,

Felicity Cohen:And aware of your own health.

Yeah. And what that journey looks like

Vicky Bonner: It keeps me in control. Yes.

Felicity Cohen:Yeah.

Vicky Bonner: It keeps me, I don’t go to, or the doctor all that often. Oh, probably every six months. Just to get a repeat on prescriptions. Other than that, I’ve been quite well.

Felicity Cohen:Yeah. That’s fantastic. You look well, you look fabulous. And do you know what your weight loss was like?

Can you remember how much weight you actually lost originally?

Vicky Bonner: I initially lost down, I’ve got down to 35 kilos. Yeah. Kilos.

Felicity Cohen:Yep. Fabulous. And, you know, it’s not about necessarily the number because that number is all relative in different to everybody, but it’s the life change that goes with it.

Vicky Bonner: That’s exactly right. Yeah. And yeah, I’m comfortable where I am at the moment. I’m happy and content in a nice civil place. Although I could lose a few more, but I’ll get around to that.

Felicity Cohen:Yeah.

Yeah. But you’re happy where you’re at.

Vicky Bonner: My body seems to be happy with where it is at the moment. It doesn’t want to, you know, change in any way. So, and my age, well, yes, I’m getting up there in the age. So I’m assuming that, you know, a few little things like middle age creeping in and different areas of the body. But other than that, yeah, no, it’s.

Felicity Cohen:You literally don’t look a day over 35, but I actually don’t even know how old you are.

I couldn’t tell.

Vicky Bonner: How about 58?

Felicity Cohen:What? You cannot be.

Wow! Amazing And hearing you still like working flat out. So you and your husband have a business together?

Vicky Bonner: Yes we do now.

Felicity Cohen:What kind of business?
Vicky Bonner: Fencing.

Okay. And do you feel as though, you know, would you have seen yourself in the business, just you and your husband 18 years ago, working to the capacity that you’re at now?

No. No, he’s always been in the business. We’ve been, he’s been in the business for 32 years with his brother and, his brother just recently wanted to be bought out. So we’ve bitten the bullet and bought him out and kept the business. So that keeps him busy. Otherwise he’ll drive me crazy at home.

Felicity Cohen:Funny. So what do you think now, when you’re talking to people who are potentially needing weight loss surgery? How do you actually go about engaging in that conversation?

How does that compare with the conversation that you might’ve had 18 years ago?

Vicky Bonner: All right. Now, that conversation now, people ask me, you know, “would you still do it” and I would say, “yes.”.

I know they’re phasing out the lap band, but I know the gastric sleeve is the next one up, and a lot of people I talked to are going on the gastric band,

Felicity Cohen:Going towards the gastric sleeve.

Vicky Bonner: Gastric sleeve. Sorry

Felicity Cohen:Yeah, yeah, get it.

Vicky Bonner: So I don’t, they ask me questions and I say, well, I’ve had had this one in for so long. I don’t know much about the sleeve, but by all means, give it a go.

Back when I had mine done and people were asking me, “What would I do?”

And I said, well, “I would do it again in a heartbeat”, have a lap band. It’s just,

Felicity Cohen:I think it’s more about the opportunity that weight loss brings you, not necessarily about which procedure, because

Vicky Bonner: Yes, each procedure is different.

Felicity Cohen:Absolutely. Right.

Vicky Bonner: Each person is different. One might suit one person, one might suit another. You just can’t, as I said to people, you just can’t go on one. You can’t go on my experience. You have to go on others, as well that have had the other experiences as well. And compare the two and see which one you feel will suit you.

Felicity Cohen:Yeah. So did we push you out of your comfort zone when it came to exercise as well?

Vicky Bonner: No.

Felicity Cohen:Did you start exercising more? What kinds of things have you done over the years?

Vicky Bonner: I haven’t done a lot lately, because I had a, deep vein thrombosis in my legs. I’ve slowed down with that.

But now, well, I had a little puppy dog,

Felicity Cohen:Excellent little puppy dog. Great to get you out walking.

Vicky Bonner: And I used to take him walking and then he sadly passed away and now I’ve got another little one and he’s sort of, oh, he’s okay. He’s on his last legs too, but I’m getting there, but he’s yeah. He’s but yes, no, I used to take them walking.

I used to walk, probably would it be about maybe three? Maybe between three to five Ks every afternoon with him.

Felicity Cohen:Fantastic. So there’s nothing that you’d change from the last 18 years?

Vicky Bonner: No.

Felicity Cohen:Nah, I think that’s just awesome. I absolutely love it. And I love that there’s a story around longevity. And I think that this is a story that we can tell, and I’m really grateful that I’ve got the opportunity to share it because, you know, having been around for 20 years, I don’t think there’s many people like me out there who’ve been doing this for such a long time.

For me, it’s like, well, I could just click my fingers and I just can’t even actually believe that, that 20 years has just disappeared. It’s seems like it, sounds like a long time, but for me it just feels like, you know, nothing.

Vicky Bonner: It’s still running. Oh, hang on a minute. Was it really that long ago? No, can’t be, it just feels like it was only a couple of years ago, but yes. Goes so fast these days.

Felicity Cohen:Yeah, absolutely. And I think for a lot of people, who’ve had gastric bands, that tool or that device, you know, it just becomes part of how you learn to live better. So I have to say congratulations on, you know, staying connected. And I think that was one of the things about you as a patient from those early days was how connected you were that you bought into the journey, the process, and that you were connected to us like family.

And that means the world, you know, being able to look back and,

Vicky Bonner: You look at all the people, like you go to the seminars and you’d meet people from Darwin and Sydney, Perth, because those places didn’t know about it. They didn’t have the knowledge. I mean when we went down to Wollongong, we went down there to open up one down there to educate them so that the Sydney people didn’t have to do travel up to the Coast.

I mean, I remember, I can’t think of her name now, the dietician back then. And she used me as an example, but she didn’t use my name. She used another name and when they all, she introduced me and I got up and they went, “Yes, but that’s not you!”.

“Oh no, it is you!”.

That was a journey that I had that far.

Felicity Cohen:Absolutely. And I think, you know, for me, one of the most important aspects of how we function now at WeightLoss Solutions Australia with 20 years of experience is,

Vicky Bonner: I mean, all the, what do you call it? The marathons that we did and the training, where you all did together to compete in the marathon,

Felicity Cohen:See, I did make you do exercise.

You forgot all those things that you did.

Vicky Bonner: Yes, Corey. Yes.

Yes. And we did all those and the other 5K’s and then he, the very first one we did, and we all did the 5Ks, but he’d only done the 10Ks or 20Ks, and then backed up with the 5Ks to help some of the 5K walkers come through that he’d train for 12 weeks before.

Felicity Cohen:He did the half marathon with Faber and then he kept, I remember that.

The exercise component has been a big part of my journey and getting people to do things differently and start to think about, how exercise is so important as part of a new lifestyle.

Vicky Bonner: Yeah.

Felicity Cohen:And what it does for you, the health benefits are so vast, you know, we know that, you know, the more you exercise, the better it’s going to be for mental health, for blood pressure and cardiovascular disease for joints and hips and everything else.

So I’m a great believer in getting people to move more and just be more functionally fit. But I but I think for you, for me personally, the biggest part of the story is also staying connected to the team. And I, you know, I’m constantly trying to, I guess you know, get people to understand that value of staying connected to the nurses, the dieticians, the psychologists now, in an expanded model of why that’s so important, because it is a life long journey.

It’s not a, it’s not a one hit wonder kind of story. Especially with bands because bands, you know, you were in the clinic a lot. But my expectation and strong belief and you know, the knowledge that we’ve got now with the research that we do is that patients need that consistent, on-going follow- up.

Vicky Bonner: Oh yes, you must. It helps you out in, and then if you’ve got a little problem, they can help, you might think, “Oh no, it’s nothing”, you know, or “It’s really terrible”, and you go in and they go, “No, that’s normal.”. You know? “Oh, okay. Well I’m normal.”.

You’re not freaking out that there’s, something’s terrible is happening and going wrong.

And, but it’s just normal.

Felicity Cohen:I would say you’re super normal. And I just, I want to say, you know, in closing Vicki, it’s been for me, such a pleasure to have that opportunity to have lifelong friends evolve through, through my experience in this business. And to have that ability to call you up and say, oh 18 years later, “Can you just come in and have a bit of a chat about your journey?”.

It’s really, really, really special. and I’ve loved, you know, obviously the relationship, you know, getting to know you, your beautiful husband who’s been incredibly supportive all the way through. And your daughters as well.

So yeah, congratulations on embracing it in 2002, when it was so new. And so you know, it wasn’t looked upon in the same way as we view bariatric surgery now. So you took a huge step. I love that you’ve been an educator for the world, you know, for the, for the GPs’ out there, and sharing your story with others in the population, you’ve been, you know, it’s been groundbreaking when you really think about your influence.

The influences in this industry are the patients who took surgery on board in those early days. So. Thank you for that and taking that step. And it’s just been so beautiful to catch up with you. And I hope that we’re still doing it in 20 years time.

Vicky Bonner: Yes.

Felicity Cohen:Thanks so much for coming in to my Wellness Warriors podcast and I’ve loved every second of having you here.

Vicky Bonner: Thank you for having me.

Felicity Cohen:My pleasure. No worries.

Thank you for joining the Wellness Warriors Podcast. It’s been a pleasure to have you online with us. If you enjoy the series, please leave your review, subscribe and follow, and we look forward to sharing many more stories with you in the future.

Nutritionist & Dietitian

Meet our team


Chealse Hawk

Nutrion Leader Coach

Isabelle Cole

Nutrion Coach

Joshua Chambers

Nutrion Coach

Laura Barrett

Nutrion Leader Coach