Read stories from people in your community who trusted their bariatric procedure to the specialists at Virginia Hospital Center and now have the energy and abilities to enjoy a wider range of activities and greater quality of life.
Lisett: No Longer Defined by her Weight
Lisett Amaya grew up being overweight for most of her life. In middle school, she weighed 260 pounds. “Even though I was physically active, playing basketball and doing cheer, my diet and eating habits prevented me from ever losing weight. By the time I was 19 years old, in my first year of community college, I weighed 283 pounds. That was when I decided I was no longer going to let my weight define my life,” says Lisett.
Lisett’s brother suggested she consider weight loss surgery and meet with his surgeon, J. R. Salameh, MD, FACS, VHC Physician Group-Surgical Specialists and Medical Director of the Bariatric Surgery Center. A few years earlier, he had had sleeve gastrectomy surgery and gone from 320 pounds down to 170.
“With every year, there is more and more data proving that not only is bariatric surgery safe, but it is also the most effective option for weight loss over the long term,” says Dr. Salameh.
In 2019, after meeting with Dr. Salameh, Lisett decided to proceed with having sleeve gastrectomy surgery at Virginia Hospital Center. In this procedure, 85% of the stomach is permanently removed, leaving in place a much smaller stomach that has the shape of a “sleeve” or a small banana. This allows an individual to feel full with much less food, but also suppresses hunger very effectively by significantly reducing the amount of the “hunger hormone,” which is produced in the stomach. On average, individuals lose about 70% of their excess weight by one year after surgery.
In preparation for her surgery, Lisett had comprehensive nutrition and clinical evaluations, screenings and diagnostic tests that were coordinated by the weight loss surgery team. She began making lifestyle changes and practicing healthy eating habits.
Dr. Salameh performed Lisett’s surgery using the da Vinci® Xi robotic system— the most advanced robotic technology available. Today, weight loss surgery is minimally invasive, performed using robotic or laparoscopic techniques, which allow for less pain, a fast recovery and quicker return to normal activities. “Sleeve gastrectomy can be performed either laparoscopically or as a robotic-assisted surgery. Both types of procedures have equivalent results, but robotic technology can be advantageous in some cases when patients have a higher body mass index,” says Dr. Salameh.
“Overall, I handled my surgery pretty well,” Lisett recalls. “The morning after surgery, I walked nonstop in the Hospital. Because I was active before my surgery, that helped me recover quickly.” Lisett went home the day after her surgery. “I took a week off from work, but I was still able to go to class. I really didn’t need to take pain medication.”
There is a misconception that if you have weight loss surgery, you’ve failed as an individual or you’re taking the easy way out. “In reality, 97% of people who are trying to lose weight will fail at keeping it off,” says Dr. Salameh. “It’s not the individual’s will power, it’s how the body is built. The way the body fights weight loss is what prevents people from losing weight.”
“Having weight loss surgery is not a green light to eat everything you want. You have to be careful. If you follow healthy eating habits and stay active, your success rate will be 70% or more,” says Dr. Salameh.
Lisett admits it was hard right after her surgery. “But then I got into the habit of going to the grocery store instead of eating out, and eating more whole foods rather than processed foods. I now weigh 143 pounds. I no longer feel like a prisoner in my own body, carrying all that excess weight around. Weight loss surgery has helped me be more accountable for my choices. I am not defined by my weight any more. People are finally seeing me for who I am—and that’s a healthier me.”
Jen: Lost 103 Pounds
When she was 19, Jen L., Waldorf, MD, ran 8 miles a day and ate very little just to maintain her weight. “I was overweight my entire life,” says Jen, now 44. “It didn’t matter what I did—whether yo-yo dieting, pills, reducing calories or working out a lot—I was always in the same boat.”
“Obesity is a chronic medical condition, like diabetes or high blood pressure,” says C. Steeve David, MD, FACS, VHC Physician Group-Surgical Specialists. “It’s not like a hernia, where you can fix it and it’s gone. But, you can control diabetes and high blood pressure with medication. With obesity, you are controlling your condition with surgery. Of all the options—in terms of the amount and longevity of weight loss— bariatric surgery offers the best outcomes.”
Jen had often thought about weight loss surgery as a solution, but was hesitant to take the first step. “For about five years I made and cancelled several appointments to consult with a doctor about weight loss surgery,” she says. “I was worried I wouldn’t qualify—and the thought of having surgery was just too scary. So, I never followed through.”
The reluctance and concern Jen felt is not unusual for people considering weight loss surgery. Almost 100% of patients will struggle with the decision to some degree. Some worry that surgery seems drastic. Some feel that they need to change, thinking if they could only do better, eat less, exercise more, things would dramatically change.
It’s also common for people to feel that they must have already decided to go ahead with surgery before they schedule their first appointment. That’s not true. “The first step is the initial consultation, where the patient and the surgeon explore all the options together,” says Dr. David. “Before we start our discussion I say, ‘Just relax. We’re simply talking about things now. This visit is not a commitment.’ We talk about what surgery involves, the different options available and then decide if it makes sense for you.”
“This was not a light decision for me,” says Jen. “When I had my first visit with Dr. David, he said, ‘I want you to think about this and how drastically it will affect your life, so you’re fully aware of what you’re getting into. Yes, you qualify, but you want to make sure this is the right decision for you.’”
“I looked online and read reviews of Virginia Hospital Center (VHC)—every single one of their reviews was top notch,” says Jen. She took everything into consideration and decided to go ahead with sleeve gastrectomy surgery with Dr. David in September 2017.
“VHC checks all the boxes in terms of quality of the hospital, quality of nursing care, and the range of weight loss surgery options we offer—including advanced aparoscopic and robotic procedures,” says Dr. David. “We are one of the few bariatric surgery programs that regularly performs revision surgeries—not many programs have the expertise to do those. Our surgeons have excellent outcomes, with very low complications and readmission rates.”
Following surgery, Jen stayed in the hospital overnight and went home the next day. “After about a week, all my incisions had healed and there was no pain,” she says. “In total, I lost 105 pounds. I maxed out on weight loss at about ten months, then started maintaining. Once you lose the weight, you’ve got to keep the motivation going—and I have. I wish I had done this five years earlier.”
Jonathan: Lost 111 Pounds
Jane: Support Made the Difference
After struggling with her weight her entire life, support from the Virginia Hospital Center team before, during and after surgery made all the difference for Jane Zimmerman.
Jane attended a free weight-loss surgery seminar at Virginia Hospital Center led by bariatric surgeon C. Steeve David, MD, and discovered the wide range of surgical options and the benefits and disadvantages of each procedure.
“I had been considering LAP-BAND® surgery, but, after consultation with Dr. David, I ended up having a sleeve gastrectomy—a laparoscopic procedure to remove a portion of the stomach,” she says.
“Virginia Hospital Center has a comprehensive weight-loss surgery program, offering the full range of weight-loss surgery procedures and revision surgery,” says Dr. David of VHC Physician Group–Surgical Specialists. “What’s more, we are constantly evaluating and adopting the newest procedures in our field, including the Orbera™ Intragastric Balloon System and the AspireAssist® device.”
Virginia Hospital Center is certified as a comprehensive program by the Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Accreditation and Quality Improvement Program, which attests to the high quality of the center and adherence to rigorous national standards.
In the months prior to her surgery, Jane met regularly with Dr. David and the team at Surgical Specialists, including Betsy Crisafulli, registered dietitian nutritionist. Betsy helped Jane begin a preop weight-loss program and plan how to adapt to a healthy, high-protein diet after surgery.
“Betsy emphasized that surgery is not a cure, but a powerful tool. My success depends on the choices I make,” says Jane.
Our weight-loss surgery team supports patients every step of the way. Patients have a very personalized experience here—one that lasts a lifetime,” says Dr. David.
Patients see their surgeon and dietitian for follow-up visits on a regular basis for the first two years after surgery, and annually thereafter. Attending the hospital’s Bariatric Surgery Support Group brings patients together who are months or years into their weight-loss surgery journey. They discuss feelings and emotions post-surgery, how to overcome challenges and ways to achieve success.
“Dr. David is a very respectful, attentive, compassionate listener. He genuinely enjoys the sense of fulfillment that comes from making a difference in people’s lives, like mine,” says Jane.
Before Jane’s surgery, her weight was over 200 pounds and her body mass index was over 35. Surgery was performed on a Monday and she went home the next night. Two weeks later, she was back at work.
“I was well prepared to deal with my postop recovery and the lifestyle changes I had to make,” says Jane, who has lost more than 65 pounds. “Within a short time, my medical issues disappeared.”
About four months after her surgery, Jane and her family returned to Cyprus, where they had once lived.
“Scrambling around old ruins—I’m now able to keep up with my son in a way I hadn’t in years and years,” she says. “It is a dream come true.”
Christine: 'I Needed More Than Diet & Exercise'
Christine Rance's surgery went smoothly and she stayed in the hospital just one night. Thanks to the procedure and her commitment to following her food plan, she lost 111 pounds in six months and improved her health and energy levels.
Rance, 49, of Alexandria had struggled with her weight for most of her life. A few years ago, she dieted, lost 80 pounds, but then gained all of it back plus another 25. She was diagnosed with sleep apnea and high blood sugar.
"I realized I needed more than diet and exercise," she says. "After doing a lot of research online and speaking to patients who had had weight-loss surgery at different programs, I was impressed with what Virginia Hospital Center had to offer.”
The hospital’s Center for Bariatric Surgery offers all components for successful weight loss—nutrition education, psychological evaluation, exercise and health promotion programs, support groups, and medical specialists familiar with the needs of obese patients. Experienced bariatric surgeons J.R. Salameh, MD, FACS and C. Steeve David, MD, of Virginia Hospital Center Physician Group–Surgical Specialists, have performed more than 1,000 weight-loss surgeries. Certification as a comprehensive program by the Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Accreditation and Quality Improvement Program attests to the high quality of the Center and adherence to rigorous national standards.
Dr. Salameh describes the breadth of the center’s programs, saying, “We offer all weight-loss surgery options, including revision surgery, and have the expertise to handle the most complex cases. Our program has the tools to support patients and keep them engaged. This makes a difference over the long term.”
When Christine first met with Dr. David, he reviewed her medical history, asked why she wanted to explore surgery, and reviewed the risks and benefits.
“He made me feel right at home,” she recalls.
Christine opted to have sleeve gastrectomy, a laparoscopic surgical procedure to remove a large portion of the stomach. Prior to her surgery, she worked regularly with the center’s dietitian to learn about dietary and lifestyle changes, saw a bariatric therapist, and attended the center’s monthly support group.
“My surgery went very smoothly. I was walking the evening of surgery and stayed in the hospital just one night. I didn’t have any serious pain,” she says. “I followed my food plan very carefully and lost 111 pounds in 6 months. My blood sugar levels are down. I have so much more energy to run and play with my 5-year-old, and I walk 11,000 steps a day.”
Christine continues to see a bariatric therapist and attends the center’s support group meetings—both of which she considers key to her ongoing success after surgery.
“For people who need to lose 70 pounds or more, weight-loss surgery is the most successful long-term option available,” says Dr. David. “It is extremely safe and has a very high success rate compared to a diet and exercise regimen alone. Bariatric surgery is a tool that allows you to accomplish something that would be virtually impossible on your own.”
“We know that obesity is related to diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, joint problems, depression and many other medical problems. Most of these issues resolve or significantly improve after bariatric surgery, along with a much better quality of life. Most important, weight-loss surgery increases life expectancy and reduces premature death by 89%,” says Dr. Salameh.
Dan & Robin: 'We Have So Much More Energy'
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. 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!”