By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Bariatric surgery patients at Bellevue Hospital got a chance to strut their stuff and showcase their accomplishments at the department’s annual runway show on November 17. Patients in the program, many of whom have lost more than 50 pounds with the help of the surgery as well as guidance from dieticians and psychologists on staff, invited their family and friends to the show to celebrate. Happening just a week before Thanksgiving, bariatric surgeon Dr. J.K. Saunders said that participants were unfazed by the upcoming holiday season.
“It can be difficult but people around them like friends and family are usually very supportive because it’s for their health,” he said. “There’s a lot of support here as well.”
Saunders said that most of the patients at the Center for Bariatric Surgery and Weight Management are referred by friends but medical doctors, who traditionally discourage the surgery in favor of diet and exercise, have become more open to the practice.
“A lot of doctors don’t necessarily believe in surgery for weight loss but the patients who get it really can’t lose the weight otherwise,” Saunders said. “They’ve tried literally everything they can try.”
The surgery is also only one step in the weight-loss process itself, even for patients in the program at Bellevue. Those who participate work with dieticians and psychologists to make lifestyle changes, both before and after the procedure is done.
“It’s not about a trendy diet but about making these habits for life, and that can be a difficult adjustment,” dietician Anna Shtarkman said. “We try to encourage as much change as possible before the surgery. Some patients have crazy schedules and aren’t sleeping well or are quitting smoking so this affects their habits.”
Psychologist Erica Shreck works closely with Shtarkman to assess patient needs and make sure they’re on the right track, and she said that she and Shtarkman work holistically to help patients through the process.
“There’s a big overlap between mental and physical health,” Shreck said. “Being able to read their mood can really have a big impact because it’s a lifestyle change. It’s not realistic to make all these changes at once but we work with patients to make small changes throughout the process so it’s a positive snowball effect.”
Many of the patients who participated in the show this month didn’t have the surgery in the last year but often return to events hosted by the hospital because of the support system it offers.
Ricardo Duprey is one of these patients. Duprey, who had his surgery in September, 2015, was 364 pounds before the surgery and is currently around 210 to 215.
Saunders said that a number of patients he sees frequently suffer from weight-related ailments like high blood pressure and high cholesterol but after the surgery are able to completely stop taking their medication, and this happened for Duprey as well.
“I’m much more active than I was before the surgery,” he said. “It was difficult to be on my feet (before the surgery). Now I go to the gym three or four days a week, sometimes multiple times a day.”
Shtarkman said that Duprey has been successful since his surgery because he recognized that the procedure is a tool in the process rather than a solution by itself.
“Ricardo is a fabulous example of a patient who works hard,” she said of Duprey. “He’s a patient who followed up and became very health conscious.
He was able to bounce back from the poor choices he made previously.”
Duprey said that he felt he had to stick to his commitment because he had already accomplished so much.
“I didn’t think I was overweight but then the diabetes and high blood pressure kicked in and I knew I needed to make a change,” he said. “I’ve come too far to gain it all back.”