‘Obesity is a Red Flag’

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Gabriela Terrazas first started considering weight-loss surgery when she was thinking about her young children.

“I was very overweight. I was easily exhausted — especially going up stairs,” she said. “I have two little ones I need to take care of, and I asked myself, ‘what’s going to happen to them if anything happens to me?’”

Terrazas had high cholesterol and diabetes. She qualified to speak with the bariatric surgery team at Valley Baptist Health System. Dr. Carlos Barba helped her determine that a gastric bypass would work best for her health.

It’s been nearly a year-and-a-half since her surgery. Terrazas has experienced big changes in both her health and how she takes care of herself. She learned to limit the amount of food that she consumes — and how she’s eating it — while also ensuring she’s choosing the right kind of food to get the proper nutrition. Before, Terrazas would walk a block and be winded. Now, she exercises five days a week, often jogging.

Her family has applauded her weight-loss journey.

“They are very proud of me that I feel better, that I look better,” Terrazas said. “They see that my energy’s different and that I’m more active with my children.”

Individuals should consider bariatric surgery when they can’t lose weight on their own and recognize that their weight is a problem, said Marcela Montemayor, registered nurse and program director at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville. She warns, however, that this procedure isn’t the “easy way” to lose weight.

“This surgery is not a miracle,” Montemayor said. “People have to change their lifestyles.”

But if patients are willing to put in the work, the results are life-changing. Most referrals for bariatric surgery at Valley Baptist come from patients who have already experienced it for themselves. Other doctors throughout the region refer their patients to Barba, recognizing his experience and expertise in the field. He has performed more than 5,000 gastric sleeves and bypasses as well as revision surgeries.

Yolanda Perez said she was healthy overall, but she struggled to lose weight and keep it off — the numbers on the scale seesawing between radical diets. She received a gastric sleeve at Valley Baptist after six months’ worth of nutritional consultation. Almost immediately, she started feeling better.

Perez credits Valley Baptist’s bariatric support group for helping her stay on track — while offering her the opportunity to make lasting relationships with other patients.

“I developed very good friendships from other women who had surgery around the same time I did,” she said. “I would say that we became best friends. They’re a big part of my life.”

Perez attended monthly meetings “religiously,” she said, because she wanted to make sure the process was right for her. Even well after her surgery, she continued to go to act as a source of information for new patients.

“We have a lot of success stories,” Montemayor said. “People who used to be in wheelchairs, they gained independence. Their quality of life has just changed completely — not to mention their health. No more diabetes. They’re sleeping. They can bend over and dress themselves, tie their shoes. There’s so many people.”

Montemayor added that her program has seen even more patients during the pandemic — particularly since obesity is one of the health conditions that can make COVID-19 even worse.

“COVID brought to our attention the risks of obesity. Obesity is a red flag that you can see visually. It’s a sign of how you’re probably not eating correctly, but what you’re not seeing is how your insides are responding,” she said. “That puts us at a huge risk.”

The number of weight-loss surgeries at Valley Baptist in 2020 exceeded those in 2019 — even when the team paused procedures for several weeks twice in the year as COVID infections rose in the region. When the surge of cases ebbed, weight-loss surgeries resumed.

“We haven’t stopped since then,” Montemayor said. “I have people calling me telling me, ‘please help me — I’m very overweight and I’m struggling to breathe and I already have diabetes and I’m so scared of COVID.”

If someone is on the fence about having weight-loss surgery, Terrazas recommends moving forward with it — especially with Valley Baptist.

“I would tell them, yes, do it, because it’s not just for you — it’s for your children,” she said. “I would recommend Valley Baptist because it’s an amazing staff they have. They’re amazing and they’re there to help you and I had a wonderful experience.”

Learn more about bariatric surgery at Valley Baptist Health System by visiting www.valleybaptist.net/services/bariatric-surgery.

 

Amy Casebier