A Family Weight-Loss Affair

June 17, 2014

Bariatrics Success StoryTracy Diaz was a yo-yo dieter for much of her life. “I’d lose 50 pounds and gain back 60. I did Lindora 13 times. I tried Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, everything there was. I’d given up,” she says.

At 5 feet, 4 inches tall, she peaked at 264 pounds when she was 46 years old. Diaz’s mother, Jane Conklin, was 5 feet tall and weighed more than 200 pounds when she was 69 years old. “That was too much for my frame,” Conklin said.

Daughter and mother gave up dieting and underwent bariatric surgery at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank in late 2012. Diaz has lost 128 pounds and Conklin 80. Both are maintaining their new lower weights.

Maintaining long-term success after bariatric surgery means committing to a new lifestyle, says Philippe J. Quilici, MD, FACS, medical director of the Bariatric Wellness Center at Providence Saint Joseph.

“The success rate of bariatric surgery is very patient-dependent,” he says. “The lifestyle change expected after bariatric surgery is actually an essential part of the management of the patient. If a patient is thinking about undergoing bariatric surgery, we make it very clear to them that they must change their lifestyle, they must change their eating habits, they must start to exercise on a routine basis. If they are not willing to do this, there is no need to undergo bariatric surgery, because it’s not going to work well.”

Diaz said Dr. Quilici put it to her succinctly: “Surgery is a tool, not a solution.” At Providence Saint Joseph, the bariatric program encompasses a comprehensive body-and-mind approach that includes nutrition counseling, psychosocial support and lifelong follow-up care.

In advance of their surgeries, both Diaz and Conklin attended discussion groups and instruction groups together, going over everything from emotional to nutritional expectations. The pair leaned on each other for support. “It was nice to go through it together,” Conklin says.

They were on a high-protein, liquid diet for two weeks before and after the surgery. Then soft foods were added. Once the healing was completed, they were free to add other foods within the dietary guidelines.

“It was not that difficult. Once you get past the point where everything is healed and you can start adding things to your diet, you realize what agrees with you and what doesn’t,” says Conklin, who has trouble eating salads and other roughages.

Unlike her mother, Diaz isn’t troubled by certain foods. “I can pretty much eat everything,” she says. “I eat what I like in small portions and in moderation. I can have bread, but I choose not to. Bread is bulky but not substantial. Chicken and veggies will keep me fuller longer. With protein and produce, you can’t go wrong.”

Before surgery, Diaz was plagued by hunger. “Not even a full meal would fill me up. Now a half-cup of carrots and a couple rolled-up slices of turkey, and it’s like I had Thanksgiving dinner.”

Diaz underwent a procedure called vertical sleeve gastrectomy, where the structure of her stomach was reshaped like a tube. This restricts the amount of calories her body absorbs.

Diaz has had ulcerative colitis for 30 years and worried about gastric bypass, which would have rerouted her intestines, possibly worsening her colitis. She chose vertical sleeve gastrectomy because it seemed to her to be the most natural approach to keeping her body doing all it’s supposed to do.

Conklin had laparoscopic gastric bypass with Roux-en-Y limb, which was long considered the “gold standard” of bariatric procedures prior to the acceptance of vertical sleeve gastrectomy. In November 2012 when she had her procedure, Medicare would not cover vertical sleeve gastrectomy, although it does now.

Both women had heard stories about people who had bariatric surgery and then regained all the weight. “They must not have listened in the classes,” Conklin said. “Why would you go to all that trouble and then not follow the instructions on eating?”

For Diaz, now 48 and a mother of 10- and 14-yearold sons, the surgery was a step toward better health. “I was looking for a healthy outcome, not a cosmetic outcome. I knew the constant up-and-down on the scale wasn’t good for my body. I want to be there for my boys.”

For Conklin, the weight loss has remedied a multitude of problems, including knee and hip pain, borderline high blood sugar and high cholesterol. “I feel much better. I’m very active—I was active before, but now I get around much easier. I’m 72, and nothing is wrong with me. That’s not a bad thing.”

The Bariatric Wellness Center at Providence Saint Joseph is the only center in the region to earn all of the following recognitions for high-quality care:

  • Bariatric Surgery Excellence Award™, Healthgrades (2010-2013), placing the program in the top 5% in the nation
  • Center of Excellence, American College of Surgeons
  • Bariatric Center of Excellence Award™, American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery.