Gastric Bypass Surgery

Getting Her Life Back

Janice LaVallee, weight loss surgery patientBefore having gastric bypass surgery last June, Janice LaVallee, 68, felt tired all the time. After a long day at work, she would sit down to read or watch TV.  Climbing stairs made Janice breathless and her back ached. At 240 pounds*, she was on medications for hypertension, cholesterol, diabetes and COPD-emphysema. “I had no energy,” she recalls. “In talking to doctors, most of them would say if you lost weight, it would help with all of these things.”

Since the 1980s, she had tried several popular weight loss programs as well as joining  health clubs; however, nothing gave her lasting results. “I would get discouraged and feel like I was doing this forever and not getting anywhere,” she says.

Janice LaVallee before weight loss surgery

Janice before surgery

Last year when she read about Milford Regional’s FreshStart program, Janice found the opportunity she had been waiting for all these years.  Through the FreshStart program, The Center for Weight Loss Surgery at Milford Regional provides a solution for adults who struggle with severe weight problems along with their associated health risks and complications. Weight loss surgery, known as bariatric surgery,  is an option for individuals with a body mass index (BMI) greater than 40, or 35 if there are accompanying weight-related illnesses such as diabetes, sleep apnea, or arthritis.

"Milford is so close to home that I knew I would attend the meetings,” says Janice, who resides in Upton. “I wanted to feel better, sleep better and get off of medications. The group at Milford Regional gave excellent information and they were straightforward with everything that was asked so you knew right from the beginning what you're getting into.”

Janice attended the introductory two-hour information session in December 2012. Afterwards, a team that included bariatric surgeons, nurse practitioners, dieticians, behavioral health counselors and physical therapists worked with her on every step of the weight loss journey.

Colleen Berg, coordinator for the Center for Weight Loss Surgery and a certified bariatric nurse, is the conduit that ensures every patient has seamless access to care. “I’m the one that will guide them through the journey and give them direction,” she says. “It’s time for them to get to know our program and I get to know them.” 

Through a partnership with UMassMemorialMedicalCenter, Milford Regional benefits from the expertise of four highly experienced bariatric surgeons including Dr. Philip A. Cohen, MD.  The entire process from the first meeting to surgery typically takes anywhere from 3-6 months and often includes much soul-searching, observes Dr. Cohen.

“The stigma of coming to the decision to have weight loss surgery is a difficult one as a lot of people think weight loss is a matter of will power, and if you exercise and diet, you will lose weight,” says Dr. Cohen. “Your risk of death with obesity is just as much as with your risk of cancer except it’s not as tangible.”

As she went through the program, Janice discovered that she was a good candidate for gastric bypass because she ate a lot of sweets and the procedure would discourage her from maintaining that habit. Dr. Cohen notes that bypass patients can experience low blood sugar symptoms if they eat sugary foods after their procedure, which motivates them to avoid sugary desserts. 

Gastric bypass has been performed since 1967 and is now done laparoscopically, a minimally invasive approach that involves several small incisions. Dr. Cohen explains that with gastric bypass, a smaller stomach is created and food bypasses most of the old stomach and part of the small intestine.  This makes patients like Janice feel full more quickly and reduces the amount of food that can be eaten at one time.

FreshStart participants learn that carbohydrates are addicting and that many people feel pressured to eat during social situations or have an impulse to eat when they are angry, stressed, or bored.  “Gastric bypass works by changing the hormonal activity in the body,” says Dr. Cohen. “Sometimes you need a mechanical way to control the emotional aspect of eating. The classic saying is that genetics loads the gun and society pulls the trigger. Bariatric surgery allows people to get healthy and stay healthy."

Recovery time is usually four to six weeks and the surgery requires two nights at the hospital. The FreshStart approach includes ongoing support through groups, an exercise program, and individual appointments. “Patients can expect to lose 30 pounds in the first six weeks,” says Dr. Cohen. “If you sustain the diet and lifestyle and exercise every day, the weight loss goes down to your ideal body weight and stays there.”

Janice underwent her gastric bypass on June 5, 2013. In five months, she went from a size 24 to a 16 and dropped 67 pounds. She is confident she will reach her ideal weight of 150 pounds. Janice left the hospital off of her blood pressure medicine and diabetes medicine, and was later taken off her inhalers. Today her diet includes yogurt mixed with protein powder, steak, chicken, turkey, beans, vegetables and fruits. “Basically your diet is a high protein, low fat, low sugar way of eating,” explains Janice, who tracks her food intake online and walks the treadmill at work. “I eat when I know I have to eat, and I enjoy what I eat.”

Janice is a regular attendee of the FreshStart support groups that meet on the first Tuesday of the month. To show her gratitude to the program, she volunteers a couple hours per week assisting with office tasks. “They gave me my life back so I wanted to be able to give back to the program,” Janice says with gratitude. “If you have any questions or something comes up, somebody gets right back to you. They have just been phenomenal. I feel wonderful and I have more energy than I know what to do with.”

*Janice is feeling great and is thrilled to be off her medications.  She has continued a healthy diet, remains active and is down to 114 pounds! (March 2016)


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