Bariatric surgery gives this SoCal couple a new lease on life

This story was originally published in the Winter 2021 edition of Providence Health Matters.


For Cynthia and Jack, a busy lifestyle centered around two careers, three children and church activities—coupled with yo-yo dieting—led to weight gain in middle age that they fought for decades. The couple, now 71 and 77 years old, respectively, read weight-loss books, tried diets, took medications and hired personal trainers, only to repeatedly lose weight and then regain it.  

This cycle went on until Cynthia weighed 225 pounds and developed high blood pressure, and Jack weighed 250 pounds and experienced severe knee pain and uncontrollable diabetes. “I could dress to camouflage the weight, but I knew it was there and I felt embarrassed,” Cynthia says.  

When she developed back pain bad enough to send her to an orthopedic surgeon, the doctor told her bluntly that she would have to lose 50 pounds before surgery—but if she lost weight, she might not even need it. He referred Cynthia to Sami Hamamji, MD, a general and bariatric (weight loss) surgeon at Providence St. Joseph Hospital, who reassured her that if she committed fully, his staff and the hospital’s educators would make her journey a team effort.  

“Thinking about the big lifestyle changes I would have to make led me to ask Jack if he would join me in this adventure,” Cynthia says. Jack feared he might be too old, but Dr. Hamamji told him that undergoing robotic bariatric surgery could add 10 healthy years to his life and eliminate his diabetes.  

Precise surgery offering many benefits 

Being extremely overweight negatively impacts your appearance, emotions and normal activities. But the primary goal of bariatric surgery is to reduce health risks from obesity, including diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, among others. Dr. Hamamji says, “Fortunately, using da Vinci robotic technology, we can safely perform surgery on every eligible patient, regardless of size.” And as long as screenings show that you are physically and psychologically healthy enough, age is no barrier.  

In February 2020, just two weeks apart, Cynthia and Jack both underwent robotic sleeve gastrectomy, which shrinks the stomach by about 80 percent so it’s able to hold much less food. Though it’s called robotic surgery, your doctor, who sits nearby at a console, performs the procedure by guiding tiny instruments inserted through a few small incisions—no stitches required.  

There are some advantages to this method over traditional laparoscopic procedures. “The camera allows for a high-definition, 3D, magnified view inside your body, and the robotic technology allows the surgeon to move the instruments more precisely,” Dr. Hamamji says.  

Success begins before surgery 

To lose a great deal of weight and keep it off requires lifestyle changes. “We spend three months teaching patients how to do that through nutritional, exercise and psychological counseling,” Dr. Hamamji says. “We took classes in nutrition and behavior modification, attended support groups and went on a dietitian-designed diet,” Cynthia says. “A psychologist did an evaluation to determine we were ready for the changes in store for us.”  

At Providence St. Joseph, which has received several national recognitions as a center of excellence for bariatric surgery, this support continues well after surgery. There are follow-ups with a multidisciplinary team that includes your surgeon, a psychiatrist or psychologist, a registered dietitian, and physical and exercise therapists, as well as mindfulness and spirituality leaders.

“Ongoing counseling and follow-up are essential, because weight problems are not just physical,” Cynthia explains. “How we think and process our issues around food must also be addressed.”

Cynthia and Jack both started losing weight right away and have successfully kept it off. Jack now weighs 184 pounds, takes walks with much less knee pain and is no longer diabetic. Cynthia is happy with her new weight of 145 pounds and has been able to stop taking blood pressure medication and avoid back surgery. “I just wish we could have done this 20 years ago,” she says. “Providence St. Joseph’s program is wonderful. It gives so many people hope for a lighter, brighter future.” 

Understand all your options for weight management

While surgical treatment may be the right solution for some patients, there are a variety of lifestyle change investments patients can make to creating a sustainable weight management program for themselves. Here are some options to consider:

  • Exercise and coaching services
  • Behavioral counseling
  • Nutrition services, including classes that focus on good eating habits
  • Structured weight management programs (e.g. digital wellness planning services)

Our weight-loss programs vary by region and facility. If you’re considering bariatric surgery or a non-surgical program to help you lose weight, you’ll find information specific to your region below.

Related resources

Providence Digestive Health Institute

Bariatric surgery, a successful weight-loss option

Managing weight without the scale

About the Author

Whether it's a dietary regime, an exercise plan or mindfulness tactics, The Providence Weight Management Team is dedicated to helping you find the best way to help you manage and maintain your ideal body weight.

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