Before bariatric surgery, Bakersfield woman ‘knew something had to change’

Melissa Loftis, Bakersfield

For Bakersfield resident Melissa Loftis, her mother’s heart procedure was a wake-up call. “It opened my eyes,” Melissa said. “Diabetes and heart disease run in my family. And I’m a single mom. My son is autistic. I wanted to be there for him, to play with him and watch him grow up.” 

But the problem wasn’t Melissa’s heart. It was her weight. 

Melissa was 35 years old, over 400 pounds, and had a body mass index of 64. She was hurting. She couldn’t breathe. If she was out of the house, she had to stop walking every few steps. “I knew something had to change,” she said. 

Melissa had already gone through the weight loss roller coaster. She’d done over-the-counter weight loss supplements, exercise and dieting. “I’d done it all, and nothing worked. I’d lose a few pounds, and it would come right back.”  

For her, the answer was gastric sleeve surgery, a procedure performed laparoscopically through small incisions in the abdomen. The surgeon removes part of the stomach and reduces the patient’s stomach size by approximately 20 percent. The result is a permanent stomach-size reduction, though some patients may see stomach dilation over time.

Dr. Magdy Giurgius, a bariatric surgeon at the Ozarks Medical Center Surgical Specialists Clinic in West Plains, performed the surgery on Melissa on July 19. Since surgery, she has lost 55 pounds. Combined with her preoperative medical weight management, she has lost a total of 137 pounds so far.

Dr. Giurgius has patients take a class before their gastric sleeve procedure. Melissa talked to a dietician, a physical therapist and counselors. “They all prepare you. So I knew there was going to be pain. I knew there’d be a struggle. When I went into the hospital, I knew what to expect,” she said.

Melissa was in the hospital for two days after the surgery to make sure her pain was under control and also to ensure there were no complications. Once home, she could do basic needs without having someone in the house with her. 

 “There were no blind spots throughout this whole thing,” Melissa said. “Dr. Giurgius sends patients home with a notebook that contains guidelines for before and after the surgery, plus exercises and nutrition options. I knew every step of the way what to expect.”

Gastric sleeve surgery is one of many weight loss (bariatric) surgeries provided by Dr. Giurgius at OMC. He also performs balloon weight loss surgery, a procedure where the surgeon endoscopically places a gastric balloon into the stomach and fills it with saline. Six months later, the balloon is removed.

To be a candidate for gastric sleeve weight loss surgery, the patient must have a body mass index below 60. If the patient’s BMI is above 60, a supervised medical weight loss program can help the patient meet the BMI requirements. The BMI for obesity starts at 30. For the gastric balloon, a BMI of 30-40 is recommended. 

Dr. Christopher Cochran of OMC Internal Medicine Clinic helped Melissa get her weight down enough to safely do the surgical procedure, reducing her BMI from 64 to 60.

Three months after surgery, Melissa has a BMI of 49.

“You have to follow the diet and do clear liquids before surgery and then clear liquids after surgery,” Melissa said. “[Dr. Giurgius’s staff] gives you a booklet that walks you through the process on what to expect and how to go about it. You have to have 65 grams of protein a day.” Now Melissa keeps a nutrition log of what she takes in every day, including carbs, protein, water and also an activity log, which keeps her motivated. 

“This surgery isn’t a solution. It’s a tool that will help you,” Melissa said. “If you don’t follow the diet guidelines, you can stretch your stomach out and go back to square one.”

Insurance often will cover the cost of bariatric procedures. Medicare also will pay for some forms of weight loss surgery. 

The benefits of bariatric surgery may outweigh the risks of obesity, which is linked to serious health conditions including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer. Patients who have bariatric surgery usually see many of these conditions improve. In some patients, weight loss after surgery can reverse eye damage and improve eyesight. 

 “Getting this surgery shows you how much strength and willpower you have for yourself,” Melissa said. “Nothing happens overnight. I didn’t put on the weight overnight, so it’s not going to come off over night. The sleeve, as a tool, really helps.”

Even though it’s only been three months since her surgery, Melissa has a new lease on life. She can now eat small meals that stay within the post-surgery guidelines. 

“Each day is a better day,” she said.  “It was a life-changing experience!”

Ozark County Times

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