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Bariatric Surgery Success Stories

Northern Virginia Magazine Article

“I believe the gastric sleeve surgery was a tool to help me improve my life. It helped me start living the life I always wanted to live.” — Jonathan Lutz, 33.
The August issue of Northern Virginia Magazine chronicles the successful weight loss surgery journey of a patient of J. R. Salameh, MD, FACS of VHC Physician Group-Surgical Specialists. Since his sleeve gastrectomy surgery in 2014, Jonathan has lost 111 pounds and is now running marathons. Read more


Support: Before, During & After Surgery

“I’ve struggled with weight all my life, but it had really gotten out of control the last 10 years. I also was having sleep apnea and signs of pre-diabetes.” — Jane Zimmerman, 54.

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Jane attended a free weight loss surgery seminar at Virginia Hospital Center led by bariatric surgeon C. Steeve David, MD, FACS, 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.”

“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 pre-op 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 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 post-op 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.”

 


Achieving Long-Term Weight Loss

“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. 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 Rance, 49.

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Christine 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. She says, “I realized I needed more than diet and exercise. 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. Our 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 become educated about new 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.


Who would have thought that at 45, I’d have a piggyback ride!

“Now we can ride bikes. We take the kids walking through Occoquan; we don’t have to think twice about doing things.” — Dan and Robin Conroy, 45.

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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!”

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