Losing to Gain

June 27, 2019

Learn how Eliza Galarza took control of her weight—and her life—with bariatric surgery at Raritan Bay Medical Center.

Three years ago, Eliza Galarza took a trip to see family in Puerto Rico, a place she lived for 25 years—a place she loves. It was the worst vacation she ever had.

Morbidly obese and living with serious weight-related health problems, Eliza was miserable. She struggled with high blood pressure, sleep apnea and asthma. She slept basically sitting up, using several pillows to prop her up so she could breathe a bit easier. The Puerto Rico heat, never a problem before, was too much for her.

“I couldn’t even go up a hill without having to stop,” she says. “I said, ‘No, this is not right.’”

Looking back now, she views that vacation as a turning point.

Sick and Tired

Eliza, 47, lives in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. At 4’11”, she became increasingly overweight over the past 20 years. As a working mother of two children, she often didn’t make time for her own health. Exercise was not part of her regular routine, and her diet included a lot of junk food.

“I ate whatever I could, when I could,” she says. “I was basically killing myself.”

Amarjit Saini, M.D., Eliza’s primary care doctor, advised Eliza to consider weight-loss surgery, but she wasn’t ready.

Then came another turning point.

In August 2017, her blood pressure became so high, she nearly had a heart attack. She went to Raritan Bay Medical Center-Perth Amboy, where she was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit.

After Eliza recovered, she was put on a second blood pressure medication. With her health declining, she decided to pursue the surgery, and Dr. Saini made the referral.

A month later, Eliza visited the office of bariatric surgeon Richard Greco, D.O., in Holmdel, New Jersey, for a consultation.

A Life-changing Decision

Given Eliza’s weight—267 pounds—and the problems it was causing, it became clear that bariatric surgery was the right treatment option. “Her BMI was over 50,” Dr. Greco says. “That alone is a qualifier.”

Dr. Greco recommended a sleeve gastrectomy, a procedure that removes most of the stomach along with the stomach hormones responsible for regulating appetite. The procedure would limit food intake and curb Eliza’s hunger while still allowing her body to absorb food like normal.

After consultations with several health care professionals, Eliza was cleared for surgery. As the surgery date drew near, she says she didn’t feel nervous, just confident. “From day one, [the care team] made me feel so comfortable,” she says. “I was so impressed with the way they took care of me.”

In January 2018, Dr. Greco operated on Eliza, marking the first bariatric surgery performed at Raritan Bay’s Center for Bariatric Surgery, which opened in late 2017.

Patients of the center benefit from a multidisciplinary team of dedicated specialists, including experienced surgeons, nurses, nutritionists and psychologists. Customized care plans include a complete evaluation before surgery and continuous education and support after.

“Patients have an excellent experience, both in the operating room and with the post-operative care on the floor with the nursing staff,” Dr. Greco says. “Everyone on the team is very caring, and I think that leads to a successful program.”

Focused on the Future

Eliza has lost a remarkable 106 pounds since the surgery. To mark the one-year anniversary, she put on the same clothes she wore the day of the surgery. The shirt, tight on her just a year ago, now hangs loose. Her pants size went from a 20 to a 9.

Gone are her high blood pressure and sleep apnea. She takes no medications. She can walk up and down the stairs as much as needed. She can go for an hour on a treadmill or 45 minutes on an exercise bike. She uses only one pillow and sleeps through the night. “That’s the best feeling ever,” she says.

Most importantly, she can now keep up with her three young grandchildren. “I can do a lot of things with them that I couldn’t do back then,” she says.

Today, Eliza is focused on losing more weight and taking better care of herself. As she reflects on her life-changing surgery, she feels nothing but gratitude. “Before, during and after the process, they were always attentive. It was the best experience ever.”

For Dr. Greco and the care team at Raritan Bay, it’s mission accomplished. “We approach all patients the same way we would want our family members to be taken care of,” Dr. Greco says. “We add that personal touch to it.”

Maintaining a healthy weight isn’t always easy, particularly when a busy schedule puts you constantly on the go. Find simple ways to eat better even when you’re away from home.

Is obesity limiting your lifestyle and harming your health? Losing weight can reduce or completely alleviate the symptoms of many debilitating medical conditions, including diabetes, osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, heart disease, sleep apnea, liver disease and infertility. Learn more about the surgery Eliza had at HackensackMeridianHealth.org/Bariatrics or find a seminar near you.

Dr. Greco is board certified in general surgery. To make an appointment, call 800-822-8905.

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.