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You Can’t Weigh Happiness

Oct 7, 2020, 20:36 PM by Sansum Clinic
Bariatric Surgery and Smart Lifestyle Choices Enabled Alicia Calderon to Lose 130 Pounds and Keep it Off

Alicia Calderon was concerned about her weight. She was getting heavier at an alarming rate, despite a healthy diet and lifestyle. “I gained more than one hundred pounds,” she says. “My primary care doctor’s examinations and blood panels didn’t provide any explanation for the sudden increase. We didn’t know what was going on.” Eventually Alicia was referred to an endocrinologist who successfully diagnosed her condition. The specialist’s tests revealed that Alicia had hypothyroidism, insulin resistance and a fatty liver.

 Alicia Calderon Baratric Weight LossShe was prescribed Synthroid (levothyroxine), a thyroid medicine that replaces a hormone normally produced by the thyroid gland to regulate the body’s energy and metabolism. And she began working out with a fitness coach. “After taking the thyroid medication for six months, exercising with a personal trainer and refining my diet, I actually gained twenty-five more pounds,” she shares. “I was very frustrated.”

Alicia’s doctor prescribed weight loss medications including Qsymia and BELVIQ (lorcaserin). The weight loss pills didn’t work either. She gained an additional fifteen pounds while taking those medications. A dietitian implanted a blood sugar monitor into her body for seven days. The monitor indicated that her diet and blood sugar levels were healthy. Two years had elapsed since the increase began and she was still battling persistent weight gain.

The struggle was adversely affecting quality of life for Alicia and her family. “My family and I would get invited to events such as weddings, parties and outings,” she says. “I would just sit home and cry because I was a size 28 and I’m five feet tall. I couldn’t find any clothes that would fit me. I didn’t feel like socializing or going places. I tried to hide my bulk by wearing black, but nothing could disguise the fact that I was double my normal size. The person I saw in the mirror didn’t look like me. At family beach picnics, my kids would ask me to build a sandcastle with them or join them for a walk. But I didn’t want to do anything. It wasn’t easy lugging around all that unhealthy extra weight.”

Medical Advice Leads to the Right Procedure

When Lucy Ortega, a physician’s assistant in the Sansum Clinic Endocrinology Department at that time, suggested Alicia consider bariatric weight loss surgery, her initial reaction was dismissive. “It was embedded in my mind that surgery was the easy way out,” she says. “I was also fearful of the procedure. I was afraid it would kill me. So I tried for six more months with medications, diet and exercise, but I continued to gain weight. Lucy was so compassionate with her care and advice. She told me that the surgery would not kill me, but I was basically killing myself by being so overweight.”

Lucy Ortega referred Alicia to Dr. Marc Zerey, a board-certified surgeon at Sansum Clinic who specializes in bariatric surgery and advanced laparoscopic techniques. Alicia attended an orientation session at Sansum that provided information and guidance about gastric sleeve surgery (vertical sleeve gastrectomy), a bariatric procedure that removes 70 to 80 percent of the stomach.
“The orientation provided so much reassurance and information,” Alicia notes. “It helped me build my courage and confidence about the procedure. I had tried all other options and none of them were working. I told myself: I’m going to do this!”

Alicia arrived for her surgery scared and nervous. “Dr. Zerey gave permission to the anesthesiologist to give me something to help me relax,” she says. “When I woke up he said, ‘You’re all done.’ Two days later I was on my feet, back home and doing things around the house. Within two weeks I was walking five miles with light weights on my feet and arms.”

After gastric sleeve surgery, Alicia’s stomach was very slim—about the size and shape of a banana and 30 percent of its original volume, causing her to feel full more quickly when eating. It now holds only three ounces at a time. The surgery increases stomach motility, which allows food to pass through the stomach and intestine faster. It also changes the body’s release of a hormone called ghrelin that stimulates appetite and promotes fat storage.

“Because of the hormone change, I didn’t feel hungry,” Alicia explains. “For the first three months following the surgery, I didn’t want to eat. I set a timer on my cell phone for every fifteen minutes to remind me to drink my protein shakes, followed fifteen minutes later with a glass of water. Over time my appetite returned and I had to carefully choose what to eat. It is important to make mindful decisions. I chose high-protein foods and a little bit of fruit. No starches and no carbohydrates.”

Guidance and Resolve Help Maintain Success

Alicia says she got excellent medical supervision and nutritional guidance after the surgery through Sansum Clinic. “They gave me a notebook that provides comprehensive information and guidelines that I obeyed faithfully,” she says. “The Sansum post-surgery program also provides a dietitian who I visited weekly for six weeks. They monitor everything very closely including food intake, calorie intake and blood sugar. My cholesterol, blood pressure, resting heart rate and other health metrics all returned to recommended levels.”

Alicia also attended a monthly bariatric support group through Sansum Clinic. The group is supervised by nutritionists and other medical professionals. During the group sessions, patients who have undergone the surgery share successes and tips about diet, supplements and lifestyle strategies that work for them, as well as challenges and struggles. Alicia attributes a lot of her success to the group sessions. “The support sessions are highly recommended,” Alicia says. “People who attend the support groups have a higher success rate because of the information sharing and the accountability.”

One year after surgery Alicia was 130 pounds lighter, and she has successfully maintained the reduction. She attributes her ongoing success not only to smart dietary choices but also to a steadfast commitment to exercise and an active lifestyle.

“I was so petite that many members of the support group and people at orientation interested in the surgery were asking if I had a tummy tuck or liposuction along with the bariatric surgery,” she shares. “Dr. Zerey jumped right in on that conversation and told the group, ‘Alicia works out seven days a week. That’s why she has these results.’ On breaks from work I do a power walk as well as arm and leg workouts. When I get home I do another hour workout, which is a combination of cardio and weightlifting. I also do yoga. And I follow a lot of fitness teachers on the web. YouTube is a great resource.”

Now when Alicia and her family ride their bikes to Goleta Beach for a picnic, she no longer hides under a beach umbrella. “I think my family got a better deal out of this than I did because they got Momma back,” she says. “I’m interacting with them and we do so many fun activities together. The success has improved the quality of life for all of us. I am so happy to be healthy again. My advice for people struggling with their weight: don’t be afraid to get help. You can’t weigh happiness.”

Alicia Calderon is an authorization specialist at Ridley-Tree Cancer Center where she authorizes patients for chemotherapy. A native of Goleta, California, Alicia has two sons and a daughter with her partner.