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Back when she weighed 323 lbs, Paula Mendoza used to have heart palpitations and pray, “God, not now, I’m not done being a mom.”

But no matter what she tried, the loving, 40-year old mother of two teenagers — daughter Marleyna and son Jake, ages 18 and 14 — couldn’t stick to a diet and exercise program that would allow her to shed the excessive weight.

She even considered weight-loss surgery, but the procedure seemed too daunting.

The problem? A lack of confidence. Prone to crippling self-doubt, Paula dubbed herself “Paranoid Paula” due to her ability to talk herself out of anything. Not even a 20-year high school reunion could provide the necessary motivation for surgery, and she ended up skipping the event rather than face her fears.

It seemed that the life-long “big girl’s” fate was sealed, forced to wear size 5X clothes, take two blood pressure medications and watch from the sidelines as her active, soccer-crazy family enjoyed life rather than experience it alongside them.

Then she heard Katy Perry’s song “Dark Horse” and everything changed.

In the inspiring pop anthem, Perry proclaims, “It’s a yes or a no but no maybe,” and asks listeners, “are you ready for your perfect storm?”

Armed with the desire to be the best mom she could be, Perry’s pivotal song proved to be just the catalyst Paula needed, and by December 2013 she was ready for her own perfect storm.

After discussing her treatment options with dedicated bariatric surgeon Dr. Halmi at Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center, Paula decided to undergo gastric bypass surgery, a procedure that shrinks the size of your stomach and decreases the amount of food your digestive system absorbs. Paula pushed herself to complete all of her pre-op testing and classes in near record time so that she wouldn’t have the opportunity to talk herself out of surgery. By April of 2014, under the care of Dr. Halmi and the attentive Sentara team, Paula underwent her life-changing procedure.

Fast-forward 18 months, and Paula is a completely different person, almost unrecognizable on the sidelines of her kids’ soccer games. Though Dr. Halmi had told her she could expect to lose between 80 and 100 lbs, Paula has shed a miraculous 160 lbs!

Paula praises her Sentara team of bariatric surgeons, nurses, dietitians and clinic staff, who were there every step of the way, from talking her through pre-surgery doubts to helping her maintain a healthy weight by rethinking the way she viewed food.

“My Sentara team taught me to view food as fuel rather than comfort,” Paula says, explaining how she’s replaced her former vices with healthy and tasty alternatives that provide her with enough energy for her new active life. “Now I eat Greek yogurt and pretend it’s ice cream.”

Paula’s family has been equally supportive in her weight-loss journey, especially her kids. Daughter Marleyna takes mom shopping (Paula now wears a size medium and considers Macy’s a “second home”) and drags her to the gym, even on days when they don’t feel like going. Son Jake takes a more tech-focused tact, constantly brightening Paula’s days with encouraging texts, sending her before and after photos accompanied by messages of how proud she makes him.

“My goal in life is to be a good mom. I did it for my kids,” Paula reflects. “Realizing, at 40, I was on two high blood pressure medications, I’m like this is not going in the right direction. You need to prolong your life span for your kids.”

But for all the outward changes in Paula’s life, it’s the inner transformation following her surgery that’s meant the most.

“Now I believe in myself,” she told attendees at a Sentara event. “Now I remain determined and focused. Now I am able to set and achieve goals. Now I am energetic and motivated. And I am able to provide a positive influence especially for my kids because you can do anything you set your mind to.”

And rest assured, Paula practices what she preaches. At her kids’ recent soccer scrimmage, Paula ran laps of the field rather than sit on the sidelines, clutching a water bottle emblazoned with the lyrics, “are you ready for your perfect storm?”

To learn more about Weight Loss Surgery at Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center, click here

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