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Stephen Carter-Hicks is used to being the center of attention. As a professionally trained theatrical singer and actor, he mesmerized audiences as Old Deuteronomy in the Broadway production of Cats. The 6'3" performer then took his talents to Las Vegas to perform with Cirque du Soleil.
As the years went on, Stephen started to have more and more issues with his weight. “I was doing these 1000 calorie diets and nothing would happen," he says. "I would gain fluid and I would blow up like the Michelin tire guy. It was awful." He found himself wondering, "What's wrong with me? I’m not eating anything and I’m gaining weight."
When the extra pounds began to affect his performance, Stephen started to explore the idea of weight loss surgery. “Fifteen years ago, a castmate had gastric bypass," he recalls. "She suggested I try it because, at one of my top weights, I was 450–460 pounds. I was miserable.”
He went to a seminar in Las Vegas where, he remembers, "The doctor told me I wasn’t a good candidate because I was too heavy. Before he would do the procedure on me, I would have to lose at least 50 pounds." Stephen left the seminar in frustration, thinking, "If I could do that on my own, I wouldn’t need surgery.”
As the years progressed, Stephen kept the idea of weight loss surgery in the back of his mind. After countless diets, which never worked for long, he visited a cardiologist and learned he had a rare lung disease, called Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension (PAH), which was affecting both his breathing and his weight.
With this condition, high pressure in the blood vessels of the lungs prevents oxygenated blood from circulating freely, forcing the heart to work harder. Symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, fatigue and swelling in the legs, hands and stomach—problems Stephen had been dealing with for years. “You have no idea how much pain I was in physically," he says. "How difficult it was to get to the bedroom, to the bathroom.”
Being diagnosed ultimately took him out of the performing world and brought him back home to Northern Virginia. There, he was referred to board-certified weight loss surgeon Dr. Masoud Rezvani, who was willing to take his case. “I believe there’s no mistake God led me to the perfect person at the right time," Stephen says. "He went through every possible procedure and every possible side effect. He was so thorough and amazing with me."
Though it wasn't easy, Stephen committed himself to following the doctor's pre-surgical instructions. "I went through six months of nutritional classes," he says. "I took really great notes. Because I knew that if I didn’t do this, I was dead.”
After decades of waiting, Stephen's gastric bypass surgery took place on June 19, 2018, at the Sentara Weight Loss Surgery Center. Of the experience, he says, "I trusted Dr. Rezvani, he made me feel so safe and so comfortable. From the moment you walk through that door, to the people who greet you and take care of you, to the nurses and all the people involved in this process, all of them spoke to me in a such a beautiful, caring way."
Surgery has changed Stephen's life dramatically. He currently weighs 262 pounds, which is a 46% loss from his pre-surgery weight of 483. His A1C is at a healthy level, he no longer takes diabetes medicine and has gone down to one heart medicine instead of five. A new world has opened up: says Stephen, "I can walk, get in a car, and be nowhere near the steering wheel. I can see things I’ve never seen before. The weight has melted off like butter.”
Stephen is now opening another chapter in his life and drawing on his lifelong love of music to become a composer. For those who can relate to his story, he advises, "Don’t let anyone tell you can’t do this, or this is the easy way out. Number one, this isn't easy and number two, they’re not walking in your shoes; they don’t know the struggles that you’ve gone through, the ways you have tried to lose weight and can’t."
If you're considering exploring weight loss surgery, don't hesitate, Stephen says. "This is going to save your life.”
Surgery isn’t for everyone. To learn if you qualify, visit sentaranova.com/wl, where you can watch our informational videos to discover if weight loss surgery is right for you. To speak with the Sentara Weight Loss Surgery Center Bariatric Program Coordinator, call 703-523-1188.