For years, Dan and Robin Conroy had struggled with their weight. Dan had sleep apnea and severe acid reflux. Robin had high blood pressure and low energy levels. They decided to look into bariatric surgery, and while doing online research, they found J.R. Salameh, MD, FACS of Virginia Hospital Center Physician Group - Surgical Specialists and Medical Director of the Hospital’s Center for Bariatric Surgery. Dan and Robin decided to learn more about their treatment options and attended a weight loss surgery seminar hosted by Virginia Hospital Center Physician Group - Surgical Specialists.
After hearing Dr. Salameh explain the options, “We just knew we wanted him to do the surgery,” Robin says.
Dr. Salameh, led Virginia Hospital Center through a year-long process to obtain accreditation as a Level 1 Bariatric Surgery Center by the American College of Surgeons (ACS). This Center of Excellence designation means that the Hospital can care for the most complex bariatric surgery cases, with no weight restrictions, and that Virginia Hospital Center meets all the nationally recognized bariatric surgical standards. Most importantly, the entire staff receives sensitivity training.
“Morbidly obese patients encounter a lot of discrimination,” Dr. Salameh says. “The last thing they need is bias and discrimination when it comes to healthcare. When they come to Virginia Hospital Center, they can feel comfortable that they will be treated like anyone else.”
“The Hospital decided to undergo the certification process,” Dr. Salameh says, “because it symbolizes institutional commitment and accountability for safe, high-quality surgical care. If you’re thinking about weight loss surgery, this is the place to come. We provide the highest level of bariatric surgical treatment and all the support that goes with it.”
Bariatric surgery patients have three treatment options. Each procedure has a different risk profile, benefits, and side effects. In gastric bypass surgery, the stomach is made smaller by creating a small pouch at the top of the stomach. It is connected to the middle portion of the small intestine, which reduces the number of calories and nutrients absorbed into the body. Adjustable gastric banding uses a saline-filled silicone ring that is placed around the upper part of the stomach. This creates a new, smaller stomach pouch that can hold only a small amount of food. In vertical sleeve gastrectomy, a large part of the stomach is surgically removed.
Prospective patients undergo a rigorous evaluation to make sure they are physically and emotionally ready, Dr. Salameh says. They see an internist and work with a nutritionist. Based on their medical condition, they also may see a cardiologist, a gastroenterologist, and sleep specialists.
“Everyone sees a psychologist,” he adds. “When you alter what patients eat and how much, this affects them on many levels. We make sure they are ready for the surgery, not only physically, but also emotionally.”
Dan and Robin selected gastric bypass and scheduled their surgeries 11 days apart from each other in November 2010. Since their surgery, Dan has lost 150 pounds and Robin has lost 100 pounds. Their lives, they say, are completely different.
“Before the surgery and the weight loss, I didn’t realize what a struggle it was,” Robin says. “Just walking in the mall was tiring and I’d have to stop and sit down on a bench. I look back and I realize I was missing out on so much. Now we can ride bikes. We take the kids walking through Occoquan; we don’t have to think twice about doing things. We can go on roller coasters, whereas before it used to be hard for us to get into the rides. There are no restrictions on what we can do. We have so much more energy.”
Now, Dan sleeps through the night, without waking up every hour. His acid reflux problems are completely gone.
That’s not an uncommon outcome, Dr. Salameh says. Many patients face serious health conditions, such as diabetes and sleep apnea. Those often go away after the surgery.
The surgery, itself, is just one small part of the treatment. Patients must have constant support throughout their lives.
“We have a lot of things in place to keep them involved,” Dr. Salameh says. “They see our dietitian, attend monthly support groups, receive our newsletter, and go to exercise classes at the Hospital. We stress follow-up to stay focused and avoid relapse.”
Dan and Robin try to attend the support group meetings every month.
“It really helps us to hear what other people are eating, doing and cooking,” Dan says. “We get ideas from what other people are trying. Plus, we like helping other people who haven’t had surgery yet.”
Robin says that the advice she offers to others considering bariatric surgery is to not let the fear of the surgery stop them.
“If you need the surgery, get it,” she says. “At first, we thought it seemed too invasive. But you have to look and compare what is going on in your life to what it could be. It’s so life-changing. Who would have thought that at 45, I’d have a piggyback ride!”