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Forty-seven-year-old Ann Looney has always struggled with her weight. Since she was a child, the Tewksbury resident has been on every diet imaginable – Weight Watchers, Slimfast, Atkins, Overeater’s Anonymous – but was never able to lose the weight. She even spent a summer at Children’s Hospital to try and help her in her fight against obesity.
“I tried for years to get to a healthy weight but never could,” says Ann. “I managed to quit smoking and make other lifestyle changes, but for some reason I could never control my weight. I felt like a failure.”
At 550 pounds, Ann first heard about gastric bypass surgery from her primary care physician in 2003.
“I knew I needed to do something, but surgery made me feel like I was admitting defeat and couldn’t do it on my own,” says Ann.
In 2005, Ann’s mother passed away, which sent her into a deep depression. She no longer cared about losing weight or finding a gastric bypass surgeon. Over the next two years, her weight spiraled out of control until she reached her highest weight of 750 pounds.
Ann’s health was being seriously affected by the additional weight. She was experiencing venous stasis – a debilitating circulation problems in her legs, cellulitis causing infections and trouble with wounds healing, sleep apnea, chronic fatigue, hypertension, an enlarged liver and depression.
As General Counsel at the Massachusetts Organization of State Engineers & Scientists, Ann was still managing to get into the office until one day her contact with the outside world ended as well.
“In a one-week period, I had fallen a few times and was not able to get up on my own. My family had always been there to help me get back up,” says Ann. “Then, one day at work, I fell and no one could help me up. My office had to call in the Boston Fire Department to assist me. I was humiliated and completely demoralized and once I got home, I never left again for six months.”
Ann lived in fear of moving at all. Walking, even moving from her bed to the couch, was accompanied by paralyzing anxiety. For Ann it wasn’t just physically arduous and painful to move around at 750 pounds, but it was emotionally difficult as well.
As a result, during her time at home, Ann’s sister had to help her with everyday activities like bathing, getting out of bed, moving around and even using the bathroom. Instead of returning to work, Ann’s job accommodated her needs and allowed her to work from home.
“I was in so much pain at this weight. I spent everyday just focused on the pain. I was just existing, just enduring, just wishing my life away. It was not a life.”
Ann realized that she needed to get help – and quickly. She began contacting various weight loss surgery programs and was discouraged when she wasn’t getting any responses. She was lucky to find a therapist who recommended that she contact Dr. Gazmuri at Newton-Wellesley Hospital.
“I knew I was a big risk because of my weight, but I felt like no one wanted to help me. That changed when I contacted Newton- Wellesley Hospital,” says Ann. Pablo Gazmuri, MD, Associate Medical Director and Surgeon at the Center for Weight Loss Surgery (CWLS), spoke to Ann the day she called looking for more information about gastric bypass surgery.
“After hearing her story, I knew she needed our help,” says Dr. Gazmuri. “Ann was critically ill. At her weight, every night she went to sleep there was a chance she wouldn’t wake up. I felt our team could provide her with the care she needed. Ann was going to die if she didn’t do something quickly.”
The Center for Weight Loss Surgery at Newton-Wellesley Hospital offers a comprehensive program to provide ongoing support to patients before and after surgery including lifestyle modification strategies to ensure long-term weight loss success. As part of this multidisciplinary approach, patients receive behavioral, nutritional and surgical care and a complete follow-up plan.
“The Center for Weight Loss Surgery accommodates any patient – regardless of their size,” says Sheila Partridge, MD, Surgeon and Medical Director at the Center. “We work with patients to develop an individualized treatment plan based on their needs. The Hospital is equipped to care for the obese population. Our team is respectful of each patient’s needs and works to help them overcome this disease.”
All patients must attend an informational session on weight loss surgery before their first appointment at the Center. For Ann, this was extremely difficult as she could barely walk and had rarely left her house in months. Renee Waite, RN, Ambulatory Services Coordinator at the Center arranged to meet Ann at her car to help her into the meeting.
“As soon as I met Renee, I knew I was in the right place and would get the help I had been, literally, dying to find,” says Ann.
It was also physically exhausting for Ann to get to her first appointment with Dr. Gazmuri. “I was so feeble and weak. I could hardly walk down the hallway to his office,” says Ann. “I had to keep stopping and sitting on a chair that my sister Maura was carrying behind me. Once I met Dr. Gazmuri and the team at the Center for Weight Loss Surgery, I knew all the effort would be worth it. For the first time, I felt like people believed in me and were willing to take a chance and help me.”
The appointment at the Center gave Ann the encouragement she needed to start changing her life.
“He told me I had the body of an 80-year-old woman in very poor health. I knew it was time to get my life back,” says Ann. “Dr. Gazmuri told me that he believed in me and would perform the surgery – that was the motivation I needed to make the changes I knew were necessary.”
Ann met with Susan Miller, RD, LD, a dietitian at the Center and started making changes to her diet. She also started to move more on a daily basis. At first she could only stand up and march in place for one minute, but over time it got easier.
“I told Ann that she was going to need to work really hard. Together we set up a plan and involved her whole family,” says Dr. Gazmuri. “This process is all about change and transformation, the surgery is just a tool – just part of the whole picture. We help patients learn to make good choices and understand their relationship with food.”
One month after her first appointment, Ann had already lost 71 pounds. When she came to Newton-Wellesley for her surgery on June 23, 2008, she weighed 530 pounds.
“Ann’s surgery went very well,” says Dr. Gazmuri. “She was the best patient a physician could hope for. She worked hard to make big lifestyle changes that in the end have saved her life.”
Ann had a remarkable recovery from her laparoscopic gastric bypass. After 48 hours, she was released from the Hospital.
“The support I received from the Center was great. Dr. Gazmuri even called me at home to see how I was doing,” says Ann. “I knew the surgery was just a small part of my journey. It’s really learning a whole new way of life. The Center gave me the tools I needed to really change my lifestyle.”
Throughout her weight loss journey, Ann has participated in the various instructional meetings offered by the Center including an intensive nutrition session and the monthly support groups.
“I felt really prepared both before and after my surgery,” say Ann. “The support groups that are offered also really help. This is a life-long process and it helps to have people to support you every step of the way.”
Now at 260 pounds, Ann is enjoying life again and the activities that she wasn’t able to take part in before.
“Ann is an extreme example of how this can be done,” says Dr. Partridge. “Her story is compelling – she made a life-changing decision and never looked back. She is committed to leading the healthiest life she can.”
Ann came back to Newton-Wellesley for surgery with Christopher Davidson, MD, Plastic Surgeon. Dr. Davidson removed the extra skin that resulted from her dramatic weight loss, which has allowed Ann to be more active.
“The extra skin was making it difficult for me to get around and be as active as I wanted to be,” says Ann. “I have noticed a huge difference since my plastic surgery. I’ve been able to live my life again.”
Ann has been exercising on a regular basis on her stationary bike, traveling the world and has been able to return to work at the office.
“I have joy again – I didn’t before,” says Ann. “I am living without pain and without limits. All of my former health conditions are gone. I am taking care of me – and putting myself and my health first again! I am able to do whatever I want to do!”
September 2008 – Went back to work at her office.
December 2008 – First time clothes shopping. Ann was overwhelmed with choices instead of, “I can’t believe it fits! I’ll buy one in every color!”
January 2009 – Getting under 400 pounds.
April 2009 – Fitting in an airline seat without needing a seatbelt extension or having the arm rest lifted.
May 2009 – Walking up Beacon Hill for a meeting.
October 2009 – The first time Ann bought clothes in a department store instead of a specialty store for large women.
February 2010 – Wore a bathing suit for the first time since she was 11 while on vacation in Barbados.
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