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It Feels Like My Life Started Over: Sally Reagan Dropped 120 Pounds and Resolved Multiple Medical Issues through Bariatric Surgery

Nov 18, 2020, 23:23 PM by Sansum Clinic
Sally Reagan

It wasn’t that long ago that Sally Reagan could only stand on her feet for a few minutes before getting tired. Today she runs half marathons. Sally reclaimed her health and vitality through gastric bypass surgery and support programs at Sansum Clinic.

Over the course of her life, the sixty-two-year-old Goleta grandmother and businesswoman struggled with numerous health problems related to Cushing’s Disease. The disease necessitated the removal of her pituitary gland when she was twenty-three years old. Cushing’s and the surgical alteration of her endocrine system caused severe weight gain, which led to diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and kidney problems. She required CPAP oxygen therapy to sleep.

“I gained more than one hundred and twenty pounds after my pituitary gland was removed,” Sally says. “Before that, I was in very good physical shape as an active member of the military, stationed at Vandenberg Air Force Base.”

Sally attempted diet programs including Nutrisystem, Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig, without satisfactory long-term results. “Being overweight affected my physical health, lifestyle, and emotional wellbeing,” she continues. “I wanted to do yoga and exercise, but I was just too big to move comfortably. I got tired very easily. I would attend chamber of commerce mixers, but I couldn’t stand on my feet for long without pain, so I couldn’t enjoy them. At five feet tall and two hundred and fifty pounds, I couldn’t find clothes that fit. I didn’t feel comfortable with the way I looked or felt, so my entire self-confidence was low. I was single, but I didn’t pursue relationships. I just wanted to hide.”

Sally was receiving medical care and guidance from multiple healthcare professionals including Daniel Berger, MD, who is an endocrinology, diabetes, and metabolism specialist at Sansum Clinic. Dr. Berger has worked with many patients to help them lose weight and keep it off permanently. He encouraged Sally to attend a Sansum Clinic orientation session for bariatric surgery.

The orientation was led by Dr. Marc Zerey, a board-certified physician at Sansum Clinic who specializes in bariatric surgery and advanced laparoscopic techniques. At the session, Sally learned about the various changes that are produced by bariatric surgery.

“The orientation was very extensive,” Sally says. “Along with Dr. Zerey there was a Sansum Clinic dietitian who provided information about the process, what to expect and how to prepare, including behaviors patients should commit to for success. I learned that the surgery would not only produce weight loss by limiting food intake, but would also create chemical and hormonal changes in my body that would alleviate other health problems including my diabetes. In fact, I was able to stop taking my diabetes medication almost immediately after the surgery.”

The two most common surgical procedures performed for weight loss are the sleeve gastrectomy and the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass. Both are performed laparoscopically with small incisions to promote quicker recovery than a traditional open approach.

“The sleeve gastrectomy is the more commonly performed of the two procedures and involves removing approximately seventy-five percent of the stomach using a stapling device, giving it more of a banana shape,” Dr. Zerey explains. “This restricts how much food a person can eat and also has been shown to decrease appetite, improve medical problems caused by obesity, and increase overall metabolism. Patients should expect to lose approximately thirty percent of their weight.”

Because of Sally’s advanced diabetes and other conditions including a hiatal hernia and severe acid reflux that were revealed during preoperative tests, Dr. Zerey recommended the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass. “Dr. Zerey told me it was my choice which surgery I had, but said we’d be much better off doing the bypass,” Sally says. “I trusted him, and I’m glad I did. I had no problems.”

In the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass operation, a small gastric pouch is created (about the size of an adult thumb). The thumb-sized pouch from the upper stomach is accompanied by bypass of the remaining stomach. The small intestine is divided using a stapling device. Afterwards, food no longer goes into some parts of the stomach and small intestine that absorb food.

“The Roux-en-Y gastric bypass is the most studied of all weight-loss procedures and is considered the gold standard,” Dr. Zerey says. “Patients should expect to lose approximately thirty-five percent of their total weight. And as Sally personally experienced, patients are often able to stop or decrease their diabetic medications soon after surgery, before any meaningful weight loss has occurred.”

Postoperative Support and Commitment Helped Sally Maintain Her Life-Changing Results

Sally describes the day of her procedure. “I was excited but also scared,” she says. “I thought, oh my gosh, I’m making this permanent change. Everyone on the medical staff was so nice, helpful, and supportive. That was comforting. And the Sansum Clinic programs and meetings had prepared me very well. I knew this was more than just a surgery, it’s a big change in lifestyle.”

She was back on her feet soon after the operation. “I actually felt very little pain,” she recalls. “Immediately after waking from anesthesia I wanted to get up and walk. Within a few hours I was doing laps around the halls of the hospital with the nurses. I felt great. I could have gone home the next morning, but they kept me an extra day for observation because of my medical history.”

Sansum Clinic dietitians provided Sally with postoperative guidance including a comprehensive book that details dietary guidelines. “I followed the recommendations faithfully,” Sally says. “That included having just water and clear fluids for a day, and then gradually transitioning to liquid protein and puréed foods. Sansum Clinic provided me with an on-call dietitian whom I could call or email at any time if I had questions. I saw Dr. Zerey and a Sansum Clinic dietitian for follow-up visits beginning one week after my procedure.”

Because bariatric surgery changes the body’s release of a hormone called ghrelin that stimulates appetite and promotes fat storage, Sally had no appetite. She set timers to remind her to get the recommended nutritional intake. “The Sansum dietitians were very clear in their guidance about exactly what and how much I should eat and drink,” she says.

After the surgery, Sally attended monthly support groups through Sansum Clinic. Medical professionals, guest speakers, and other patients provide information and discuss tips and strategies at the meetings. The sessions are attended not only by patients who recently underwent bariatric surgery, but also by those who are preparing for it and those who had it years earlier. Guest speakers present a variety of topics including vitamin requirements, exercise, meditation, acupuncture, and other relevant themes. Meetings also include cooking demonstrations for healthy food preparation and field trips to grocery stores to learn about nutrition labeling.

“I encourage people to attend and continue with the support groups,” Sally says. “They help us maintain success so we don’t regain weight. They are also a way to repay the system by providing an opportunity to support and reassure new patients who have not yet undergone the procedure. I tell people who are considering this surgery: Don’t let your fears hold you back. You’re missing a great opportunity. My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner.”

Sally lost 120 pounds over nine months after the surgery and continues to maintain her healthy weight. She attributes her success to following Sansum Clinic’s nutritional program closely, staying active, and pursuing psychological and emotional support through friends, family, and professionals. “I hired a life coach who I still work with,” she says. “And I connect with people through online support groups, including bariatric groups on Facebook. There’s also a resource called that is a great health and wellness system for those navigating weight loss surgery. I attend their national conferences and read their online newsletters, forums, and research.”

A few months after the surgery, Sally wanted to find something besides her diet to focus on. “I was never a runner, but I went to a trainer and told him I wanted to start,” she says. “At first I could only run for a minute, and then I would walk for five minutes. I was out of shape because being overweight had restricted physical activity for so long. But my new weight and vitality permitted me to gradually build up my stamina. Within one year I was able to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon event in Las Vegas. Now I run or walk three to five miles every morning. I do yoga and Pilates a few times a week, and I continue to work with a personal trainer as I prepare to participate in full marathon events in the coming years. Exercise does as much for my mind as it does for my body.”

Bariatric surgery alleviated multiple medical issues for Sally, including diabetes, asthma, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, kidney problems, and sleep apnea. “Dr. Berger said diabetes doesn’t need to be part of the diagnosis on my medical chart anymore, so he marked it resolved,” Sally says. “I don’t have to take all those medications, and I no longer require CPAP therapy.”

“It’s life changing,” she concludes. “I have way more energy, more confidence, and I feel more comfortable with myself. It feels like my life started over. I feel younger and healthier now than I did when I was in my thirties. I love to put my young grandchild into a jogging stroller and take her out with me around the evergreen open spaces and parks in my Goleta neighborhood. And it’s nice to be able to buy clothes I like. Previously, I often couldn’t find clothes that fit because I was too big. Now I sometimes can’t find my size because I’m too small. That’s a nice problem to have.”

Sally Reagan is the on-site manager of a homeowner’s association in Goleta. She moved to the Santa Barbara area in 1988 after serving in the military at Vandenberg Air Force Base. She has a son, a daughter-in-law, and a granddaughter who live near her.

To schedule an appointment with Sansum Clinic’s Bariatric Surgery Center or to sign up for an upcoming weight loss surgery seminar, please call (805) 898-3472.

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