In a team effort, six Duke neurosurgeons lost a combined total of 205 pounds.

Kyle Walsh, associate professor of neurosurgery, and Anna Terry, assistant professor of neurosurgery, are among the professors who lost weight as part of the Healthy Duke initiative. Walsh said he decided to make lifestyle changes after moving from San Francisco to Durham in July to assume his current position.  

“When I got here, I saw Peter Fecci, one of the neurosurgeons participating in [the weight loss],” Walsh said. “I hadn’t seen him in six months and he had lost a bunch of weight. I had to ask him how he’d done it.”

John Sampson, chair of the department of neurosurgery, also encouraged Walsh. The department chair began the push towards healthier habits by exercising and making diet changes himself. Walsh said seeing change coming from the top down was motivating.

Walsh—who has lost about 25 pounds—said that his family’s lifestyle in San Francisco did not lend itself to healthier actions. Since moving, he has tried to focus on eating better and improving his work hours, he said.

“I was doing a lot of late night work, and I think that lends itself to bad eating habits and bad exercise habits,” Walsh said. “I worked on trying to force myself to be a morning person and eat a good, hearty but low-calorie breakfast.”

Since making the changes, Walsh said he has noticed a difference in his work. Since he began eating better and hiking, he sleeps better and has more energy. 

“If you sleep better, generally you feel a little more rested at work,” he said. “The neurosurgery group is on a rather early morning schedule, and so trying to keep up with Peter and the others when they’re showing up bright and early for 6:30 a.m. meetings has been much easier.”

The Healthy Duke program launched last April, aiming to promote healthy lifestyles among staff and faculty. Terry lost 40 pounds with the program after gaining weight during her second pregnancy. She started with gradual diet changes, including meal planning and cutting out added sugar.  

“I found out that I was not being very mindful about how I was eating,” Terry said. “I wasn’t always making the most healthy choices, sometimes just making convenient choice.” 

Terry said that she has noticed increased attention toward healthy lifestyles among faculty over her last two and a half years at Duke. She agreed that Sampson’s proactivity with promoting the changes made a difference. 

“There’s been a lot of attention from Duke leadership on healthy choices,” Terry said. “It makes sense because people who are healthier are happier and better at their jobs.”

In addition to Fecci, Sampson, Terry and Walsh, Gary Archer and Peter Grossi, assistant professors of neurosurgery, also lost significant weight.

Walsh said the group dynamic was motivating for all six neurosurgeons. He noted that three of the neurosurgeons, including Fecci and Sampson, added a competitive edge to their healthy habits as well.

“It’s hard to appreciate the effectiveness of working out or changing your diet on yourself because you see yourself every day,” Walsh said. “On your coworkers, who you might see every couple of weeks, it’s a nice positive reinforcement.” 

Terry said that self-care should be a priority for neurosurgeons, especially as they see the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle in their patients every day, but it is often difficult to make those healthier changes themselves. 

“We tend to push ourselves very hard and take care of ourselves last,” she said. “It’s very important to focus on self-care as a part of what our job requires. Many of us put that on the back burner and as a result, develop chronic health issues.”