A Back­stage View of Weight Loss Surgery at Sen­tara

The Washington Post Sunday - - FROM PAGE ONE -

“Inever thought my weight would af­fect my pro­fes­sional life.”

That’s how my con­ver­sa­tion with Shaque­asha started when we talked about her in­cred­i­ble weight loss jour­ney. In one year, she went from 317 pounds to 195 pounds. Her inspiring story be­gan in the most un­likely place: the U.S. Army.

An Air Force vet­eran, Shaque­asha landed a cov­eted over­seas as­sign­ment with the Army in Au­gust 2013. The only re­main­ing task be­fore her de­ploy­ment was her med­i­cal clear­ance. Un­for­tu­nately, she didn’t pass be­cause of her weight. She lost the job.

While some peo­ple may have looked at this as an end­ing, Shaque­asha saw it as a be­gin­ning. From ty­ing her shoelaces, to get­ting out of her car, ev­ery day tasks left her ex­hausted and short of breath. She didn’t want to live like that any­more. The lost Army op­por­tu­nity was a wakeup call. A week af­ter she lost the job, she looked into weight loss surgery, an op­tion that she had al­ways seen as a last re­sort.

“I was against weight loss surgery for a long time,” Shaque­asha told me. “I wanted to do it on my own. Af­ter try­ing for years, I knew surgery was the only op­tion left.”

From the first ori­en­ta­tion ses­sion at Sen­tara North­ern Vir­ginia Med­i­cal Cen­ter, she felt them take a per­sonal in­ter­est in her de­ci­sion and process. She was in­spired by the suc­cess sto­ries of other Sen­tara pa­tients who shared their ex­pe­ri­ences at the ori­en­ta­tion ses­sion. The warm and re­as­sur­ing na­ture of the Sen­tara team showed her that she had found the per­fect part­ner for her weight loss goal. Even a year af­ter her surgery, her sur­geon, Dr. John Dock­ins, and the com­pas­sion­ate team mem­bers at Sen­tara Surgery Spe­cial­ists con­tinue to play an im­por­tant role in her life.

I asked Dr. Dock­ins how he de­fines suc­cess for his pa­tients and how the Sen­tara pro­gram com­pares to other weight loss pro­grams.

“The ul­ti­mate goal,” he said, “And the one I set for my pa­tients, is to lose 100% of their ex­cess weight, have their weight-re­lated med­i­cal prob­lems dis­ap­pear, and main­tain that weight loss for life. I think those are lofty goals, but with the right ded­i­ca­tion, com­bined with bariatric surgery, they are at­tain­able. The Sen­tara Weight Loss Surgery Cen­ter is ac­cred­ited by the Meta­bolic and Bariatric Surgery Ac­cred­i­ta­tion and

Qual­ity Im­prove­ment Pro­gram (MBSAQIP). We are proud to hold this des­ig­na­tion, as MBSAQIP ac­cred­ited cen­ters must meet rig­or­ous cri­te­ria to ad­vance safe, high-qual­ity care for bariatric and meta­bolic sur­gi­cal pa­tients.”

To be ready for this life change, Shaque­asha took a three-month nu­tri­tion class. Then she had to com­plete an ex­ten­sive task list and work through co­pi­ous amounts of pa­per­work from Sen­tara and her in­sur­ance com­pany to make sure she was phys­i­cally, men­tally, and emo­tion­ally ready for weight loss surgery.

“In­sur­ance com­pa­nies re­quire a three to six month med­i­cally su­per­vised weight loss pro­gram prior to ap­prov­ing pa­tients for surgery,” said Dr. Dock­ins. “It’s dur­ing this wait­ing pe­riod that we com­plete the nec­es­sary tests and ed­u­ca­tion. The goal is to make sure pa­tients get through the surgery safely and em­power them with tools and knowl­edge to reach their weight goals.”

“Did you ever have any doubts af­ter that ini­tial meet­ing with Sen­tara?” I asked Shaque­asha. She laughed.

“Oh yes,” she said. “It took me months to de­cide that I could com­mit to chang­ing my en­tire life­style for the rest of my life. I needed that time to be 100% sure of my com­mit­ment to this change.”

That time has served Shaque­asha well. In ad­di­tion to the weight loss over the past year, she’s com­pletely reversed her Type II di­a­betes and high blood pres­sure. Her suc­cess re­quires a daily com­mit­ment to her health and well­be­ing. She weighs and por­tions out her food (which to­day con­sists mostly of pro­tein and veg­eta­bles), has com­pletely elim­i­nated soda from her diet, was re­quired to re­strict al­co­hol for one year af­ter surgery and still lim­its her con­sump­tion, and she now works out four or five times per week.

“I got three gym mem­ber­ships af­ter surgery,” Shaque­asha said. “One near my of­fice, one near my house, and one that’s open 24/7. I know my­self and I had to set up a sys­tem so that I wouldn’t have an ex­cuse to not work out.“

What I found most re­mark­able about Shaque­asha was her de­sire and com­mit­ment to lift and in­spire oth­ers dur­ing her own weight loss jour­ney. She cre­ated a Face­book group called Su­per Stars of Weight Loss Surgery. In the year since her surgery, she’s grown the group to 50 mem­bers strong. All mem­bers live in the Vir­ginia / D.C. / Mary­land area and all but one mem­ber re­ceived weight loss surgery at Sen­tara. The group has been so suc­cess­ful that now Sen­tara tells ev­ery one of its weight loss surgery pa­tients about Shaque­asha’s Face­book group and en­cour­ages them to join.

“You need this kind of out­let,” she said. “You can’t do it alone and be suc­cess­ful. You need other peo­ple who re­ally un­der­stand ex­actly what you’re go­ing through. I’ve formed close re­la­tion­ships dur­ing this process.”

In ad­di­tion to Shaque­asha’s per­sonal ini­tia­tives to build com­mu­nity, Sen­tara makes a con­certed ef­fort to sup­port pa­tients post-surgery. Dr. Dock­ins ex­plained, “We of­fer sup­port groups to our pa­tients, which in­clude coun­sel­ing from our di­eti­cians and be­hav­ioral health coun­selors, as well as en­gage­ment from the sur­geons. I see all of my pa­tients ev­ery 3 months af­ter surgery for the first year, ev­ery 6 months dur­ing the sec­ond year, and once yearly for life. The best part of my job is when I see my pa­tients af­ter surgery in fol­low-up who are los­ing weight, and feel­ing happy and mo­ti­vated to con­tinue their jour­ney to­wards a healthy life.”

Shaque­asha and I spent a lot of time talk­ing about how she feels now with so much suc­cess to her credit. She is proud of her­self and her ef­fort, though she is also quick to ex­plain that suc­cess is a process, not a des­ti­na­tion.

“Ev­ery day, ev­ery minute, I have to re­sist temp­ta­tion,” she said. “I hate to hear the pop of a soda can. I hear that and all I want is a soda but I don’t let my­self go there. I don’t ever want to go back to the weight I was be­fore surgery so I stay away from any­thing like soda that would take me off track.”

For any­one else think­ing about weight loss surgery, Shaque­asha en­cour­ages them to fol­low their heart and stand firm in the de­ci­sion to take care of them­selves.

“No one else can live your life for you,” she said. “No one else un­der­stands your strug­gles the way you do. You have to do what’s best for you, and for your health. You have to be ready to change and be 100% com­mit­ted to this process. It will be the hard­est yet most re­ward­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of your life. Be­cause of weight loss surgery, I now have a sec­ond chance at re­ally living my life.”

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