November 6, 2019
Many people make the resolution to get healthier by exercising more, eating better and losing weight, but it’s not an easy one to keep—until an event serves as a wake-up call to the potential effect on family and friends.
A combination of events served as Wendy Florczak’s wake-up call. The loss of a family member just a few years older than her and a diagnosis of her own heart condition at age 47 led her to Alexander D. Abkin, M.D., FACS, medical director of the JFK for Life Bariatric Surgery Program, for help losing weight in 2009.
“I lost my sister who was only 53, and that really shook me to the core,” Wendy says. This loss, combined with her medical issues that included angina, high blood pressure and constant joint pain, led to her decision to choose weight loss surgery. “All I could think about was my kids not having a mother,” she says.
Dr. Abkin performed a successful gastric band procedure in 2009, and Wendy lost 100 pounds in 15 months. But a hiatal hernia and gastro-esophageal reflux disease required continual adjustments. Because the gastric band works by restricting the flow of food into the digestive system with a band at the top of the stomach, the only way to relieve her symptoms was to release the band. This procedure took care of the reflux that was affecting her quality of life, but over time, her weight returned.
Another major life event convinced Wendy to revisit weight loss surgery. “My husband was in an industrial accident, which left him disabled,” she says. Helping him during his recovery led to her stress-eating, which meant continued weight gain. “I knew I had to get my act together, because I could not help him if I didn’t take care of myself.”
With Dr. Abkin’s help and her own extensive research, Wendy decided to undergo another procedure—a laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy—to lose the excess weight and become healthier. The sleeve gastrectomy, which was not available when she first underwent weight loss surgery, involves the removal of about 80 percent of the stomach. The smaller stomach limits the amount of food that is eaten at one time by producing a full sensation.
The two most popular bariatric procedures are sleeve gastrectomy and gastric bypass, which creates a smaller stomach pouch and reduces the length of small intestine to control the amount of food consumed and calories absorbed, Dr. Abkin says.
“The majority of my patients—about 80 percent—request a sleeve gastrectomy when other attempts to lose weight through dieting fail,” he adds.
To help ensure success, Hackensack Meridian Health bariatric surgeons require patients to attend education sessions, nutritional counseling and support group meetings prior to surgery.
“It is important to demystify the process so that patients understand what will happen before, during and after surgery,” Dr. Abkin says. “Physicians and staff can explain benefits and risks of surgery, but attending support groups prior to surgery helps patients get a good picture of how their life will change from people who have experienced it.”
This change includes paying attention to the type and quantity of foods eaten, and lifestyle changes. “This is a huge commitment for patients, and they are more successful when they understand everything about the process,” he says.
For Wendy, these steps made all the difference. “I weighed 305 pounds before the sleeve gastrectomy and was on 13 different medications for diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and other conditions,” she says. “I lost 80 pounds in 15 months, and I’m still losing.”
Wendy is also down to only four medications, with plans to eliminate the high blood pressure medication soon. “I am no longer diabetic, which was requiring three insulin injections each day. It was a huge relief to no longer have to treat diabetes,” she says.
As she loses weight and becomes healthier, Wendy appreciates small changes that other people might take for granted. “I’m no longer huffing and puffing as I walk, I can touch my toes and I even climbed a ladder to clean out the gutters,” she says. She has added exercise to her routine, walking regularly and taking three to four yoga classes each week. “I have a great outlook on life and am more confident.”
A trip to Disney World with girlfriends and not hiding behind other people in group photos are just two changes made possible by weight loss, Wendy says.
“I’m still overweight by society’s standards, but I’m healthy and there is more to taking care of yourself than just reaching a goal on a scale,” she says.
The National Institutes of Health offers criteria for qualifying for bariatric surgery:
- Body mass index of 40
- 100+ pounds over ideal weight
- No medical conditions
- Body mass index of 35
- 50–75 pounds over ideal weight
-Weight-related medical conditions that include diabetes, sleep apnea or hypertension
Learn more about the weight loss surgery at JFK Medical Center. Visit www.JFKForLife.org or attend our upcoming weight-loss seminar on November 19, 2019.