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Lisett Amaya: No longer defined by her weight

Lisett Amaya grew up being overweight. In middle school, she weighed 260 pounds. “Even though I was physically active and played sports, my diet and eating habits prevented me from losing weight. By the time I was 19-years-old, in my first year of community college, I weighed 283 pounds,” says Amaya. “That was when I decided I was no longer going to let my weight define my life.”

Amaya’s brother, who had previously undergone bariatric surgery, suggested she meet with his surgeon, Dr. J. R. Salameh, a Virginia Hospital Center Physician Group-Surgical Specialist, and Medical Director of the Bariatric Surgery Center.

 “With every year, there is more and more data proving that, not only is bariatric surgery safe, but it is also the most effective option for weight loss long term,” says Salameh.

In 2019, after meeting with Salameh, Amaya decided to proceed with sleeve gastrectomy surgery at VHC.

In this procedure, 85 percent of the stomach is permanently removed, leaving in place a much smaller stomach. This allows an individual to feel full with less food and effectively suppresses hunger by reducing the amount of the “hunger hormone,” produced in the stomach. On average, individuals lose about 70 percent of their excess weight by one year after surgery.

In preparation for her surgery, Amaya had comprehensive nutrition and clinical evaluations, screenings and diagnostic tests that were coordinated by the weight loss surgery team. 

Salameh performed Amaya’s surgery using the da Vinci Xi robotic system—the most advanced robotic technology available. Today, weight loss surgery is minimally invasive, performed using robotic or laparoscopic techniques, which allow for less pain, a fast recovery and a quicker return to normal activities.

“Overall, I handled my surgery pretty well,” Amaya recalls. “The morning after, I walked non-stop in the Hospital. Because I was active before my surgery, that helped me recover quickly.” Amaya went home the day after her surgery. “I took a week off from work, but I was still able to go to class. I really didn’t need to take pain medication.”

There is a misconception that if you have weight loss surgery, you’ve failed as an individual or you’re taking the easy way out. “In reality, 97 percent of people who are trying to lose weight will fail at keeping it off,” says Salameh. “It’s not the individual’s will power, it’s how the body is built.

Amaya admits it was hard right after her surgery. “But then I got into the habit of going to the grocery store instead of eating out and eating more whole foods rather than processed foods. I now weigh 143 pounds. I no longer feel like a prisoner in my own body, carrying all that excess weight around. Weight loss surgery has helped me be more accountable for my choices. I am not defined by my weight anymore. People are finally seeing me for who I am—and that’s a healthier me.”

Jen Ligons: You can’t run from obesity

When she was 19, Jen Ligons, ran eight miles a day and ate very little just to maintain her weight. “I was overweight my entire life,” says Ligons, now 44. “It didn’t matter what I did—whether yo-yo dieting, pills, reducing calories or working out a lot—I was always in the same boat.”

“Obesity is a chronic medical condition, like diabetes or high blood pressure,” says Dr. C. Steeve David, a VHC Physician Group-Surgical Specialist. “It’s not like a hernia, where you can fix it and it’s gone. With obesity, you are controlling your condition with surgery. Of all the options—in terms of the amount and longevity of weight loss—bariatric surgery offers the best outcomes.”

Ligons had often thought about weight loss surgery as a solution, but was hesitant to take the first step. “For about five years I made and cancelled several appointments to consult with a doctor about weight loss surgery,” she says. “I was worried I wouldn’t qualify—and the thought of having surgery was just too scary. So, I never followed through.”

The reluctance and concern Ligons felt is not unusual for people considering weight loss surgery. Almost 100 percent of patients will struggle with the decision to some degree. Some worry that surgery seems drastic. Some feel that they need to change, thinking if they could only do better, eat less, and exercise more, things would dramatically change.

“This was not a light decision for me,” says Ligons. “When I had my first visit with Dr. David, he said, ‘I want you to think about this and how drastically it will affect your life, so you’re fully aware of what you’re getting into. Yes, you qualify, but you want to make sure this is the right decision for you.’”

 “I looked online and read reviews of Virginia Hospital Center (VHC)—every single one of their reviews was top-notch,” says Ligons. She took everything into consideration and decided to go ahead with sleeve gastrectomy surgery with David in September 2017.

“VHC checks all the boxes in terms of quality of the hospital, quality of nursing care, and the range of weight loss surgery options we offer—including advanced laparoscopic and robotic procedures,” says Dr. David. “Our surgeons have excellent outcomes, with very low complications and readmission rates.”

Following surgery, Ligons stayed in the hospital overnight and went home the next day. “After about a week, all my incisions had healed and there was no pain,” she says. “In total, I lost 105 pounds. I maxed out on weight loss at about 10 months, then started maintaining. Once you lose the weight, you’ve got to keep the motivation going—and I have. I wish I had done this five years earlier.”

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