Our Weight Loss Surgery Patients Share Their Stories
James Bryant is a chemical geologist in Matawan. After bariatric surgery with Statewide Bariatrics, he is enjoying a much healthier lifestyle, free of diabetes and sleep apnea.*
Watch James’ story
Having a friend to motivate them through their journey has made Arlesa McGee and Brigid Conway’s experience with bariatric surgery even better. Brigid says the two motivate each other to stay on track.*
After bariatric surgery helped Alex Cabezas lose 92 pounds, the Keansburg resident is more active than he’s been in 20 years. He maintains his healthy new lifestyle by working out, playing softball and visiting the beach with his twin sons.*
Anthony Damodio has seen remarkable results from the Lap-Band surgery. “He has lost more pounds than his entire weight now,” says his wife, Ashley, who also had the procedure.*
Watch Anthony and Ashley’s story
Herb Segar’s life was dramatically changed after he suffered from an Atrial Fibrilation in 2012. Two years later, he made a dramatic change for the better.
Watch Herb’s story
Life-Changing Weight Loss: “A Positive Attitude is Key” *
“One day in November 2008, I was playing on my computer on my lunch hour, and I decided to find out what my BMI (body mass index) was,” recalls Frank Branch, 54, and electrical engineer from East Orange. “It was 52. That’s the day I found out I was morbidly obese.”*
Branch’s wakeup call came after years of bad eating habits and a genetic predisposition to diabetes. In fact, Branch had been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes in 1994, but that had not been enough to curb his unhealthy eating habits.
“My biggest killer was bread,” he admits. “And I always needed something sweet after a meal. I’d go down to the Italian bakery and get two loaves of bread and eat them with whipped butter. And buy a cake or pie for dessert.
“I weighed 440 pounds,” he says. “I was on all kinds of diabetic medication — Glucophage, Metformin, insulin. I was taking about eight pills daily and injecting myself twice a day. But my medication wasn’t working. I wasn’t going to be around very long.”
Branch made an appointment to see Dr. Karl Strom, head bariatric surgeon at HackensackUMC Mountainside. After meeting with Strom to discuss weight-loss options, Branch chose laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding surgery.
Commonly called “lap band surgery,” the procedure involves decreasing the size of the stomach by wrapping it in an adjustable band. Branch says it was exactly what he needed to help get his weight under control. The band allowed him to eat small amounts of food and feel satisfied, while diminishing his cravings.
“Before I had the surgery, if there was nothing sweet in the house I would eat spoonfuls of sugar right out of the jar. I was terrible,” he says. “Even now, I still have a sweet tooth but I can control it. Now I just suck on a mint after dinner. I don’t need a cake or a pie.”
In fact, since his surgery, Branch has changed all his eating habits. Before, his typical breakfast was three eggs, bacon, sausage, four pieces of toast, a quart of orange juice and a pastry. Lunch used to be a hoagie sandwich, potato chips and candy, and dinner was often fried chicken, pasta and bread. Now he says he is much happier eating a healthy combination of carbs, vegetables and lean protein.
“Now I have a feeling of fullness without overeating,” he says. “That bloated feeling when you’ve eaten too much, I don’t want to feel that way anymore. All those rich foods at the holidays, I don’t really want them. A spoonful of this and a spoonful of that, and I’m fine.”
Over the past four years, Branch has lost exactly half his body weight: At 6’1”, he weighs in at 220 pounds. That, he says, is the same thing he weighed at age 23, when he got out of the military.
“It’s a gradual weight loss,” he says, noting that Dr. Strom and his staff supported his journey every step of the way. “If you follow what they say, and do what you’ve got to do, I’m living proof that it works. I found out a positive attitude is key.”
At about six months post-op, Branch supplemented his weight loss efforts by attending Mountainside’s bariatric support group.
“Sometimes you gain a few pounds, and I found out that’s ok. I’d tell the group, ‘you know what you’ve got to do? You’ve got to give it a chance. We did this to change our lives’.”
And change his life it did. Branch’s diabetes is gone. In 2012, his primary care doctor took him off all his medications. His waist measurement, once 70 inches, went down to 38 at its smallest but “people started telling me I looked too skinny.” Now it’s between 42 inches. And this year he began weight lifting to replace some of his fat loss with muscle.
“People are shocked when they see me,” he smiles. “I’m not a 400-pound person anymore. But I’m not dieting. This is the way I want to live for the rest of my life. I want to be around for the next thirty or forty years. That’s my decision.”
“I Lost 164 Pounds — and Got My Life Back .” *
“I don’t even own a scale because I’d be too obsessive,” confides weight loss patient Susan Krasowski, 59, of Clifton, N.J. “Now that I know I can lose weight and look good, I’d be on it all the time.”
Raised without a mother, Krasowski says she never learned about proper nutrition and, as a child and teenager, ate junk food constantly. “Potato chips and ice cream were my downfall,” she says. “After I started having children was when the weight started coming on. It was harder to lose after each child was born.”
In her late forties, Krasowski was diagnosed with diabetes. “I took insulin four times a day. When you’re on insulin it’s even harder to lose weight,” she recalls. “I just kept getting bigger and bigger. My blood pressure was high, my thyroid was out of whack, my back hurt, I was just a mess.”
At that point Krasowski weighed over 300 pounds. She walked with a cane and occasionally used a wheelchair. She was constantly in pain and discomfort. But her wakeup call came when she developed an ulcer on her foot that wouldn’t heal.
Living in fear of amputation, Krasowski was forced to go to the hospital for weekly wound care, skin grafts and daily hyperbaric oxygen treatments. “It was a horrible time,” she says with a shudder. “It took a year for the wound to heal.”
Determined to change her life, Krasowski attended a weight loss surgery seminar with Dr. Karl Strom, head of bariatric surgery at Hackensack UMC Mountainside Hospital.
“At the seminar, I received thorough information on all the types of surgery available and spoke to former patients who’d had the surgery. I said to myself, ‘Well, I like Mountainside. So let’s see what happens’.”
After being cleared for surgery by her insurance company and a team of specialists — pulmonologist, cardiologist, gastroenterologist and psychiatrist — Krasowski underwent gastric bypass surgery on November 28, 2011.
“There were no complications,” she recalls. “I was in the ICU for a day, and a day in recovery before they let me go home. Within a week I was up and moving around.”
That first week, drinking only liquids and protein shakes, Krasowski lost 24 pounds. And she hasn’t stopped losing since.
“After that week, I started being able to eat regular food. I followed the recommended diet and I didn’t feel hungry or deprived. If you lose a significant amount of weight, that’s your incentive for losing more.”
Helping her along was Dr. Strom’s weight loss team, who arranged group support meetings and individual counseling as needed. Krasowski says she still goes on monthly “field trips” to ShopRite’s “Shop Smart Grocery Shopping Tours,” which provide handy nutrition information, as well as fun and camaraderie.
“They let you sample things at the store, and they take you through various departments to keep you informed about how to make healthy choices.”
Krasowski says the process of steadily losing a lot of weight has been much easier than she could have imagined. Instead of dreading her weigh-ins with her doctor, they proved to be a positive experience — a surprise, in fact, because she didn’t own a scale at home.
“They’d have me step on the scale and I couldn’t believe it. I’d say, ‘Are you kidding?’” she laughs. “I would recommend this experience to anyone. They guided me through everything and made it such an easy process. If I have questions, I can call Stephanie, Dr. Strom’s nutritionist/dietician, any time.”
Among the benefits of her weight loss was a surge of energy. “Now I have almost too much energy,” she says. “Before, I couldn’t get up off the couch without rolling myself forward and using a cane. Now out running around. I’m rarely at home, and can chase after my grandchildren.”
And then there is the travel.
“In 2012, I’ve been to Miami, Los Angeles, Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia, Saint Martin’s and Saint Bart’s,” says the retired schoolteacher. “You can eat yourself to death on those cruises but I don’t want to eat like that anymore. Now, I eat lots of soups and stick to fruit for dessert. And, well, I occasionally allow myself a glass of champagne.”
Of course, living it up includes shopping, which Krasowski says she does at Walmart, “because I’ve gone through so many sizes. I always have to buy new clothes.” When she reaches her goal weight, she has promised herself a shopping trip at Nordstrom.
“When my psychologist at Mountainside told me, ‘You have a great support system,’ I said, ‘Look, cutie, I’m not doing this for my husband and kids. I’m doing it for myself. I took care of everyone else, now it’s my turn.’”
In the 14 months since Krasowski had her gastric bypass surgery, she’s lost 164 pounds. Now 168 pounds, she grins with delight as she holds up a pair of her old “fat pants,” size 4X.
“People can’t believe it when they see me,” she says. “164 pounds is a person. I lost an entire person.”
“I’m Healthier and I’m Beautiful .” *
“When I look in the mirror, I can say now, I’m healthier and I’m beautiful.”
Sheila Lands, 49, has undergone nothing short of a transformation after having Lap Band surgery at HackensackUMC Mountainside.
In 2009, Lands weighed 310 pounds and wore a 26-28 clothes size. Because her blood pressure was dangerously high at 140/90, she was dependent on water pills and blood pressure pills. “It frightened me,” she recalls.
“My doctor said he was going to increase my pills if I didn’t get the weight off. My blood pressure was to the limit, almost to a stroke.”
Her doctor recommended Lap Band surgery. Knowing she had failed to lose weight using traditional diet and exercise methods, Lands attended a free consultation at HackensackUMC Mountainside’s Center for Advanced Bariatric Surgery. She was pleased with what she heard.
“I asked if the surgery was reversible and they said yes,” she says. “But I didn’t rush into the decision. It took me six months to make up my mind.”
Weight loss surgeon Dr. Karl Strom and his team were there to support her every step of the way, Lands says.
“Dr. Strom is great. He answered all my questions. Even now, I can call the office anytime I need to talk to someone.”
In addition to nutrition counseling, psychological support is key to a good post-surgery outcome. Patients are evaluated thoroughly beforehand, because, as Lands says, the changes in lifestyle and diet are significant.
“I’m conscious of what I’m eating now,” Lands says. “If I’m on vacation I may let my hair down. But then I’ll tell myself, all right Sheila, playtime is over. Let’s go.”
Like other Lap Band patients, Lands says she can no longer tolerate soda or starchy foods that expand in the stomach, such as white rice, and pasta and bread made from white flour. She now chooses higher fiber carbohydrates like oatmeal, potatoes and whole grain breads and pasta. For dessert she reaches for fresh fruit and Fiber One 90-calorie cakes and brownies.
To keep her energy up and her diet balanced, Lands must consume lots of protein, like lean meats and fish. Because her stomach can’t hold large portions, she makes sure to drink a mid-morning protein shake, which she sometimes livens up with tasty ingredients like bananas and peanut butter.
“You just have to change your eating habits and follow doctor’s orders,” she says. “It’s that simple.”
Lands says one of the most significant changes she’s experienced is her own altered self-image.
“People treated me totally different when I was heavy. They never noticed me. Now, I think people are jealous of me,” she confides. “I have different friends now. They’re more positive.”
It was also a shock to finally be able to shop anywhere she wanted, Lands says, after being confined to stores for plus-size women her whole adult life.
“I can finally walk past Lane Bryant or the Avenue, my old stores. Now I can shop anywhere because I don’t wear size X anymore. I have fun with it.” She laughs. “I have to keep my waistline small because I love my dresses.”
Still, Lands says it can be sobering to see people in public places who remind her of what she used to look like. “I see people wobbling around at the mall and I think, no thank you. I’d rather be healthy.”
Today, she says, “my blood pressure is 120/70, I weigh191 and I wear size 14-16. Even my shoe size got smaller. I used to wear an 11, now I wear a 10. I’m happy with where I am now. It’s a whole transformation.”
“My weight-loss story had a surprise ending.” *
— Patty Tevletidis
I thought I would always be lonely
I look in the mirror today and simply can’t believe it’s not a stranger staring back at me. It seems like just yesterday that I was 29-years old, extremely overweight and never been on a date. I guess I had resigned myself to a future of work and loneliness. Then one day, the proverbial light switch went off in my head. My niece had recently been born and I barely had the energy to pick her up and hold her in my arms.
The Moment of Truth
Right then and there I made a promise to myself that I needed to totally turn my life around and free myself from the weight that was literally killing me. I wanted to be around for my precious niece as she grew up. And maybe, somewhere in the back of my head, I thought how wonderful it would be to have a child of my own one day.
I wouldn’t put my trust in any other hospital
Once I made up my mind to have weight-loss surgery, there was never any doubt in my mind which hospital I would choose. After all, my parents had always put their trust in HackensackUMC Mountainside for so many years; it just made sense to trust them as well. The very next day, my father and I went to HackensackUMC Mountainside, found out about their weight-loss surgery, and met the doctor who would soon save my life, Dr. Karl Strom, Director of Bariatric Surgery. The minute I met him, I felt a comfort level and just knew I had made the right decision.
I lost over 190 pounds
In November 2004, my surgery was performed by Dr. Strom. The surgery went off without a hitch, and I lost over 190 pounds during the course of a year — I went from a size 28 to a size 10! I felt like a new woman and had all the energy I needed to play with my precious niece, exercise regularly and finally live a healthy lifestyle.
My life was finally complete
Then, an amazing thing happened. I went out on the first date of my entire life with a wonderful guy who was just a friend from a few years back. I guess you could say that first date went pretty well. We’ve been married for five years now and have a beautiful baby boy, Simon John. I really couldn’t ask for a happier ending to my story, and I owe it all to Mountainside and Dr. Strom.