Weight Loss Success: One Patient's Story

A Lifelong Struggle With Weight
Andrea Geller, a high school social worker from Framingham, has struggled with her weight for most of her life. With a family history of obesity, she remembers trying a variety of diets throughout the years to lose the excess weight.

“Much of my dad’s side has weight issues,” says Andrea. “I remember going with a family friend to Weight Watchers when I was in sixth grade. I tried a shake diet a few years later and then in college I worked with a dietician and had some success. In my 20s I tried Meridia and in my 30s I met with a doctor who worked with me to eat natural foods. I had success with every endeavor; however, I always gained the weight back. If I didn’t exercise a tremendous amount each day and eat perfectly then I would gain weight.”

Andrea never felt that her weight held her back, until in her mid-30s she began to have trouble with her knees and was diagnosed with osteoarthritis. “I was popular and had many friends and dated, which continued through adulthood when I met my husband,” she adds. “My excess weight started to cause problems with my knees and the doctor explained that carrying so much extra weight was making the problem worse.”

Infertility Treatments
Andrea knew she was at the end of the line with her weight loss options when she and her husband, Ted, were having a difficult time conceiving.

“After almost two years of infertility treatment, we took some time off so I could focus on losing weight,” says Andrea. “I was hoping that it would help us achieve our dream of having a baby. I was nearing 40 and getting extremely anxious that it would not happen for us, and it would be my fault. So I lost 70 pounds and we left our first center and went to Newton-Wellesley to see Rachel Ashby, MD, and she got us pregnant on the first round of IVF!”

Andrea’s daughter, Hannah Jessica, was born at Newton-Wellesley on November 2, 2009. “At my sixweek appointment, my OB/GYN, Henry Lerner, MD, suggested that I look into weight loss surgery. I was convinced that since I had lost the weight before, I could do it again and there was no need to check out that option.”

However, after trying again on her own, Andrea realized it wasn’t working.

Missing Out
“I was beginning to feel that I was missing out on activities with my daughter. It was getting harder to keep up with her, even to get off the floor when we were playing. I began to get very sad, and my husband became increasingly more anxious about my weight. My dad had a health scare last summer and my husband asked that I not let myself get to that point. I began to think how hard I worked to have my daughter and how I took such good care of myself and her while I was pregnant. I am already an older mom, so I needed to get myself together!”

The last straw for Andrea came when she couldn’t fit into the seatbelt on an amusement park ride. Nothing like that had ever happened to her before and she couldn’t believe it had come to that point.

Choosing Surgery
“I decided to attend the New Patient Information Meeting at the Center for Weight Loss Surgery,” says Andrea. “During the presentation my husband looked at me and said, ‘You have to do this. You are the perfect candidate. You have no other health issues – yet.’ I have a family history of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and I have managed to escape them all, as Ted said, for now.”

After the meeting, Andrea made an appointment with Aaron Bloomenthal, MD, Surgeon at the Center for Weight Loss Surgery. “When I met Andrea I knew she would be a great candidate for weight loss surgery,” says Dr. Bloomenthal. “I could tell she had put a lot of thought into the decision. She was wholeheartedly committed to developing routines before her surgery that would ultimately lead to her success.”

Pre-Surgical Exercise Program
The Center for Weight Loss Surgery is collaborating with Newton-Wellesley Hospital’s Shipley Fitness Center to offer patients a pre-surgical exercise program. The program called “Change in Motion” works to incorporate fitness and well being into a patient’s health care plan and consists of eight weeks of one-on-one sessions. The Change In Motion program partners with the Center For Weight Loss Surgery but is available to anyone who is interested in starting an exercise program geared towards weight loss and building strength.

“Andrea and I started working together about two months prior to her surgery,” says Sara Collins, Clinical Fitness Specialist at Newton-Wellesley Hospital. “She was eager, though a little worried about starting an exercise program because of her prior experience working with a personal trainer. She had a pre-existing knee injury that became aggravated and eventually re-injured, so naturally she was a little apprehensive about exercising again. I assured her that she would not have the same experience here. As an athletic trainer, I have an extensive background in injury rehabilitation and orthopaedics and am able to help patients find safe ways to exercise. Andrea instantly eased into the idea of exercise again.”

All of the fitness specialists at the Hospital are certified and have experience working with many special populations such as weight loss surgery patients. The requirement to qualify for the program is a doctor referral and medical clearance to exercise.

“I truly enjoyed the time I spent with Andrea; not only because she is a wonderful and motivated woman with a heart of gold, but because of her trust in me and her success during the time we worked together,” adds Sara. “She met every challenge I gave her and continued to challenge herself even when we weren't working together. She made her commitment to weight loss and building strength part of her life. Even on her last day as we were saying our tearful (yes, we were crying) goodbyes, she stayed an extra hour to exercise more. That is the moment I knew Andrea was ready for her surgery and for her new life. I am so proud of her!”

The Center for Weight Loss Surgery is now offering this program to their patients as a regular part of the weight loss program. “Increased levels of physical activity pre-operatively have been shown to predict increased levels of physical activity postoperatively as well,” says Dr. Bloomenthal. “The reason for this may be as simple as setting a habit into place that patients are able to continue to use throughout their lives. Research is still ongoing in this area. Moreover, increased levels of physical activity pre-operatively are correlated with more weight loss before surgery, which generally means that patients experience fewer complications with surgery.”

Andrea agrees that meeting with Sara prepared her and helped her meet her goals before surgery. “I am forever grateful to Sara for keeping me on track. She kept me moving and encouraged me all the way. She helped me achieve my goals from Dr. Bloomenthal before my surgery. Her good nature, humor and sensitive approach is the perfect combination for anyone in my position.”

The Procedure
Andrea arrived at the Hospital on April 3, 2013 to have her surgery. “My experience was amazing! The nurses and patient care assistants on Usen 6 were incredibly knowledgeable about my procedure and I was very well cared for throughout my stay. The staff at the Center for Weight Loss Surgery are extremely compassionate, dedicated and supportive. Honestly, I didn’t even consider any other hospital.”

Dr. Bloomenthal performed minimally invasive surgery on Andrea, which has become standard at the Center for Weight Loss Surgery.

“I believe we have a very unique program at Newton-Wellesley,” adds Dr. Bloomenthal. “We have a tremendous support network in place for our patients both before and after their surgery. We want them to be successful and to have the tools to achieve their life-long weight loss goals.”

Healthier Lifestyle
Andrea is now focusing on maintaining healthy habits and is well on her way to long-term good health and weight loss success.

“When a family member suggested I look into the surgery several years ago, I shrugged it off because my focus was to have a baby. When Dr. Lerner suggested it, I thought, ‘I don’t need that; it's the easy way out.’ Through talking to people at the support groups, meeting with the nurse coordinator, the dieticians and Dr. Bloomenthal and doing my own research, I realize that this surgery is not the easy way out. This is for people who have tried again and again, year after year to win the battle. This surgery is the beginning tool to give me a new lease on life. I am so appreciative to Dr. Bloomenthal for helping me regain my life.”

Life After Surgery
Since her surgery, Andrea’s life has already changed in many ways. “I am now able to get up off the floor when I play with my daughter without having to hold onto the couch! Even kneeling down to tie her shoes, rather then hunching over is something I have taken for granted,” says Andrea. “My greater goals are to go ice skating with Hannah next winter. She loves hockey and is going to learn to skate. I used to love to ice skate, but haven't been on skates since my 20s!”

In her professional life as a high school social worker, she works with teens with poor body image issues. Andrea is looking forward to guiding them and her daughter in a more personal way rather than “do as I say not as I do”. “

Through this whole journey I have been incredibly lucky to have the best medical care and the best support from my family and friends. The reaction to having the surgery was nothing short of full-on support! My friends and family have repeatedly said that they are looking forward to me becoming the person on the outside that I am on the inside. I have always had a zest for life and my weight never defined me. Now I can really live life to the fullest!”

For more information about the Center for Weight Loss Surgery at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, call CareFinder at 1-866-NWH-DOCS (694-3627) or visitwww.nwh.org/weightloss.

Aaron Bloomenthal, MD Surgeon
Center for Weight Loss Surgery 
Newton-Wellesley Hospital

Dr. Bloomenthal graduated from Boston University School of Medicine and completed his residency in general surgery at the University of Massachusetts. He completed a fellowship in minimally invasive weight loss surgery, as well as pancreatic and hepatobiliary surgery at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

Sara Collins, ATC, LAT, CPT, CET
Clinical Fitness Specialist/Athletic Trainer
Shipley Fitness Center
Newton-Wellesley Hospital

Sara received her bachelor of science in kinesiology and athletic training from the University of Maine. She is a board certified athletic trainer and an ACSM certified personal trainer and cancer exercise specialist. Sara is currently pursuing her certification in medical therapeutic yoga.