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By Noreen Kirk
Recent research suggests each person’s body has a “set point” for weight. In obesity, the set point is set too high. When an obese person tries to lose weight through diet and exercise, the body’s hormones react by increasing hunger and burning fewer calories. That’s why losing weight and keeping it off is so difficult. But weight loss (bariatric) surgery can help. Bariatric procedures, which make the stomach smaller, promote weight loss not just by reducing calorie intake, but by altering the metabolism itself. As Hannoush says, “Surgery actually lowers the set point. Now when you try to lose weight, you’re not fighting your biology. Surgery is a game-changer.”
The Hartford HealthCare Medical Group Centers for Surgical Weight Loss program makes this life-altering treatment—and all the services surrounding it—readily available to area residents, close to where they live and work. HOCC’s Center for Metabolic Health, at 11 South Road in Farmington, is the “home base” for HOCC patients having bariatric surgery and where patients see various specialists before and after surgery.
The process leading up to surgery is comprehensive and multidisciplinary and involves extensive evaluations and education, but the program provides support every step of the way. “Every prospective patient receives personal attention,” says Bariatic Coordinator Kelly Miller, LCSW. “There are many appointments necessary before bariatric surgery can be done. We have three patient navigators in Farmington who do a great job helping patients maneuver smoothly through the system.”
The program offers free information sessions at HOCC’s New Britain General campus, its Family Health Center in Bristol and Center for Metabolic Health in Farmington; as well as at MidState Family Health Center in Meriden. At the sessions, Hannoush and other team members explain what obesity is, its potential treatments, risks and benefits of the different surgical procedures offered and what people can expect if they choose to pursue surgical weight loss.
The next step is a one-on-one consultation with the bariatric surgeon, who reviews the patient’s medical history. If the patient seems to be a candidate for surgery, the surgeon and patient discuss the various surgical options and together decide which is the best procedure for that particular patient. Patient navigators then arrange a series of meetings with specialists.
Each patient has three to six monthly visits with a registered dietician. “Our goal is to assess where they are with their diet before surgery and help them establish goals to start changing eating behaviors in preparation for changes they’ll need to make after surgery,” says May Harter, MS, RD, one of the program’s two registered dietitians.
Clinical psychologist Carrie Lukens, PhD, sees each prospective patient. “We want to know that patients understand what’s involved and get them mentally prepared for all the changes,” Lukens says. She also sees patients after surgery to help with adjustment. “We support patients every way we can,” she says.
Making sure a patient is healthy enough for surgery is critical. Each one sees a cardiologist, a pulmonologist and, often, a gastroenterologist. They also have blood work, and some have sleep studies.
Nurse Practitioner Sara Thompson plays a key role in caring for patients before and after surgery. She sees patients throughout the workup. “I do a lot of preoperative education, explaining what to expect before and after surgery, and what they need to do to be ready,” Thompson says. She makes sure patients understand that the surgery “is just a tool. You still have to be ready to do your part—exercise and eat healthy.”
Patients are admitted for the surgical procedure and typically go home two days after their procedure.
Hartford HealthCare’s comprehensive surgical weight loss program emphasizes safety, expert care, and personal attention and support. Best of all, says Miller, “Patients who live in our service area get all outpatient treatment, before and after surgery, in their own community.”
Staff members see firsthand the positive changes surgery makes in patients’ lives. “It’s rewarding to see a person now able to do things many people take for granted—getting in and out of a car, tying their shoes, playing with their children,” says Harter. “Their quality of life is so improved.”
Kim Falconer recalls the moment she resolved to lose weight: “My husband said to me, ‘You’re not healthy. We have three little girls, and I’m afraid you’re going to die.’”
Falconer, now 40, had struggled with her weight since childhood. Diets, exercise—even hypnotherapy—hadn’t worked. Her husband’s concerns prompted her to see her primary care physician, who suggested weight loss surgery. She’d always thought of surgery as “the easy way out,” but she decided it was right for her after attending an information session led by Dr. Edward Hannoush of Hartford HealthCare Medical Group Centers for Surgical Weight Loss.
“It’s quite a process getting to the point of surgery,” Falconer says, “but the people at HOCC (The Hospital of Central Connecticut) were so great and so positive. They made it easy for me.”
Falconer had surgery in January 2014. Her energy level increased. She started working out. Her diet was healthy. Within 10 months, Falconer had lost 150 pounds. Today, she says, “I feel good. This has changed my life so much for the better. I wish I’d done this 15 years ago.” Her experience has made a positive difference for her whole family. They have fun doing physical activities together, and they’ve learned a lot about nutrition and smart food choices. Even Louie, the family’s Britany spaniel, gets involved; he and Falconer run together several times a week.
Asked what advice she’d offer others considering weight loss surgery, Falconer says, “I’d encourage them to be sure they’re ready, to have support and to find their motivation. My kids were my motivation. I didn’t do this to look good; I did it to be healthy.”
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