Vertical Sleeve Surgery (2) Patient Story

Breaking the Chains

Michelle weight loss surgery patientA few years ago, Michelle Bernard couldn’t walk from the parking lot to the employee entrance of Milford Regional Medical Center, where she works as a CNA, without stopping at least four times to catch her breath. Her weight – at one point 325 pounds – was not only making it laborious for her to walk, but was causing her health problems including high cholesterol , borderline diabetes and sleep apnea.

One night, as she was caring for a patient who had just had weight loss surgery through Milford Regional’s FreshStart program, the patient looked at her and said, “What are you waiting for?”

That was the impetus Michelle needed to take the first step towards a healthier life. She went back to her work station, logged on to the computer and signed up for the next information session for FreshStart. Based out of The Center for Weight Loss Surgery at Milford Regional, the FreshStart Program provides bariatric surgery to 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.

Michelle Bernard weight loss surgery patient

Michelle before surgery

When Michelle started the FreshStart program, she weighed 265 pounds. Since undergoing vertical sleeve gastrectomy, she has lost 105-lbs. Now, Michelle not only strides unimpeded into work, she walks regularly, runs on occasion and lives an active lifestyle. Her sleep apnea and high cholesterol are a thing of the past and her diabetes has disappeared.

“It’s just amazing. If you want your life back and you don’t want to be a prisoner of your own life, make the call,” says Michelle.

With a vertical sleeve, a large portion of the stomach is removed and a new smaller stomach is created in the shape of a tube. Dr. Philip A. Cohen, one of Milford Regional’s bariatric surgeons, explains the vertical sleeve limits the amount of food a patient can eat by leading to a feeling of fullness. Many people who struggle with portion control choose the vertical sleeve option.

“It creates a restriction so the capacity is less and they respond to the signals of satiety that much quicker,” Dr. Cohen says. “It also changes the hormonal profile of the patient. The procedure increases the metabolism and allows the patient to lose anywhere from 50-75 percent of their excess body weight. Hypertension, diabetes and sleep apnea are all improved and many patients get off their medications. It allows people to make changes in their lives they wouldn’t be able to make otherwise.”

What makes the FreshStart program unique is the support provided to the patients from the FreshStart team, which includes bariatric surgeons, nurse practitioners, dietitians, behavioral health counselors, and physical therapists. In addition, there are group classes and individual meetings on topics such as mindful eating, nutrition basics, surgical options and what to expect as the patient goes through the program.

Depending on the patient’s health assessment, the program can take anywhere from three to six months to complete. The patients are asked to make simple changes such as submitting food logs and losing 10-20 pounds to prepare their bodies for surgery.

Michelle's role as a CNA on the medical/surgical floor in the Meehan Family Pavilion puts her in the right position to be of assistance to weight loss surgery patients following surgery. “I am there with them to help them get up and walk and to have that first meal with them,” says Michelle. Michelle is not just an inspiration to her patients, but to her family as well. Her mother recently had weight loss surgery and her son is considering the surgery himself.

To this day, Michelle still keeps in touch with the patient – as well as many others – who inspired her to take that first step. “We are like one big family. That’s just what we are,” Michelle says.

Read more about Philip Cohen, MD

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