Meet the medical team of the HonorHealth Bariatric Center

When you take your weight loss journey, you’ll form a partnership with the medical team and the support team. Meet HonorHealth's Bariatric Center medical team:

  • James Swain, medical director and bariatric surgeon
  • Brendan Marr, bariatric surgeon
  • Kelly Polak, Nurse Practitioner

James Swain, MD

Dr. Swain is a bariatric surgeon and the medical director of the HonorHealth Bariatric Center.

Where were you born?
North Platte, Neb.

Where did you grow up?
We moved a lot. My dad was a weatherman for the National Weather Service. I lived in eight states before I got to high school. Then we lived in Kansas.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?
A basketball star. I was good until people could jump higher than me — about the 10th grade. I won the state title in tennis in the 12th grade. Much like basketball, being a surgeon is a team event. Whether in the clinic or the operating room, each person works together to give great care.

What’s your favorite movie?
“Matrix.” I love the concept that perception can be digitized.

What’s your favorite place on earth? Why?
Austria. I used to train surgeons in laparoscopic bariatric surgery at the University of Innsbruck. It’s quiet, and I love it for the politeness of its people and its beauty. It’s totally relaxing there.

Are you a dog person or a cat person?
Oh, a cat person, although I don’t have a cat right now. Spooky passed away from cancer a few months ago, and I’m not ready for my next cat yet.

What do you love to do in your free time?
I love video games; I have to admit it. My favorite is Call of Duty. My boys and I play together, but even if we’re in different rooms of the house or at college, we are still together. Joshua is 18 and Zachary is 20.

Why did you choose Arizona to be a surgeon?
I did my residency at the Mayo Clinic in 1995, but I did my surgeries at HonorHealth Scottsdale Shea Medical Center as a resident. Some of the same nurses I worked with then are still at Shea. My family and I lived in Jacksonville, Fla., for my fellowship, and in Rochester, Minn., but they didn’t like Minnesota. So we moved back to Arizona; I’ve been with HonorHealth since 2011.

Why did you decide to become a bariatric surgeon?
Because it’s a challenge to reconstruct the stomach and intestine laparoscopically. Only about 2 percent of bariatrics surgeries were done using laparoscopy in 2000. Now it is standard of care.

Plus, bariatric surgery is such a positive practice. The benefits for the patient far outweigh the risks. It’s so fun to see how my patients change and to have that kind of impact on people’s lives. I can’t imagine another specialty being as good.

Do you have relatives with weight issues?
My mom. And I’ve struggled with my weight. I have empathy for the personal struggles of excess weight and weight loss.

How does your patients’ relationship with food differ from individuals with a normal weight?
It’s a co-dependency. People in general use food to celebrate; they also use it when they’re sad as a source of comfort. Food’s a central part of life. It’s a cultural thing.

Some people can gain weight more easily than others because they’re more sensitive to the hormones that make you want to eat. That contributes to the metabolic aspect of weight gain.

Some patients have a history of addiction and sexual abuse and turn to food. Patients can easily substitute one addiction for another — alcohol, sex, exercise — even knitting!

Why do you do bariatric research, and what do you enjoy about it?
I conduct a lot of research at the HonorHealth Research Institute — on bariatric devices, ways to slow down stomach emptying so you feel fuller longer, ways to decrease ghrelin levels. Ghrelin is the hormone that increases appetite. There’s more than just surgery that can help a patient lose weight. I’m on the forefront of these new technologies.

Because obesity affects every aspect of your life — from fertility to heart disease, from reflux disease to sleep apnea — there’s no shortage of things to study.

The beauty of weight loss is that it makes everything in your body better. The inflammatory process caused by your body attacking fat cells and the cells around them fades with weight loss. People feel so much better as they lose a lot of weight after surgery.

If you hadn’t become a bariatric surgeon, what would you have been?
The bass player for Metallica.

Brendan Marr MD, FACS, FASMBS

Where were you born/grow up?

Chicago, IL – I have been a Bears, Cubs, Bulls, and Blackhawks fan since birth.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

Definitely a pirate. Although this wasn’t a solid career choice, I did manage to work as a ship captain in my 20’s. While I loved working on the water, I had an undeniable interest in the medical field especially surgery.

Do you have a favorite movie/book/music group?

Favorite movie: Tombstone   Favorite book: The Sea Wolf by Jack London

What do you like to do in your free time?

I enjoy being outdoors. Hiking, cycling or fishing. I have really enjoyed the hiking Arizona has to offer. It has everything from leisurely strolls to extremely difficult climbs and all with beautiful scenery. 

Where is your favorite place on earth?

Ireland – The scenery, the history, the people, fish and chips, Guinness. What’s not to like?

Are you a dog or cat person?

I am a dog person.  I have two: Maisie – lab and Spartacus – pug. 


Why did you choose Bariatrics?

As a medical student I was amazed at the effectiveness of Bariatric surgery and the impact it has on patient’s lives. Not only do you get to perform complex surgeries, you have a long-term relationship with your patients and get to celebrate their success with them. There aren’t many fields of medicine where you routinely get hugs from your patients. It’s extremely gratifying!

Why did you choose AZ to practice Bariatrics?

I love Arizona’s weather and scenery as well as all the outdoor activity available. However, I really jumped at the chance to work with Dr. Swain and be part of the team.

If you were not a surgeon, what would you be?

Is pirate still an option?
 

Why choose HonorHealth for bariatric weight loss surgery?

Take your next steps.

Attend an in-person or online seminar on weight loss surgery options.

Call the HonorHealth bariatric program at 480-882-7460.

Get started