“I can do anything now,” exclaimed Stephanie A., of Clifton, NJ, “go cliff jumping, zip lining, whitewater rafting, and even buy clothes in the regular size department.” After having gastric bypass surgery, she’s lost 165 pounds and couldn’t be happier.
Although she’s only 23 years old, Stephanie said it was a ten-year journey toward having the surgery that would change her life. Always active and involved in sports — she played on three different basketball teams — everything started changing around her freshman year in high school.
Stephanie began gaining weight and felt too tired and slow to keep up with her teammates in the sports she loved. “I filled the time that I used to fill with exercise with eating instead,” Stephanie said. “I was active, but because I was eating so much, I wasn’t able to burn enough calories to lose weight.” She became a binge eater and developed other bad eating habits.
Around that time, her parents were both obese, and her dad had multiple health issues that frightened the family: high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and hypertension. Her mom had breathing issues. When they both decided to get serious about their health issues, Stephanie’s father opted for the gastric bypass, while her mother had sleeve gastrectomy surgery.
“I got to witness what they went through and the recovery process and how it affected their lives,” Stephanie said. “The surgery changed their lives completely. I wouldn’t have my dad with me if he didn’t have it done.”
Stephanie was lucky. She had not yet developed the comorbidities that her parents had. But at 362 pounds, she was struggling and could not keep up with the sports that she loved to play. “I was always doing yo-yo diets, Herbalife, keto, diet pills, and whatnot. But nothing really worked,” Stephanie said, “because I could never stick to it. So, it wasn't until Spring 2021 when I started student teaching, because I’m going to be a physical education teacher, that I realized I needed to change something. I want to be the teacher who’s moving around, involved in the game. This is a career that I’m passionate about, that I want to do for the rest of my life. But I can’t do it if I’m at the weight that I was.”
Stephanie contacted her insurance company to see if she qualified for bariatric surgery. She attended weight loss seminars online and asked about other people’s experiences. Then she called New Jersey Bariatric Center and made an appointment with bariatric surgeon Tina Thomas, MD, who explained the types of surgeries, possible complications, and the benefits of the surgery. Dr. Thomas made sure that Stephanie could fully understand what was involved. She had the benefit of watching her parents’ successful experiences and had their full support. Dr. Thomas performed Stephanie’s surgery at Overlook Medical Center on August 9, 2021.
“I am so grateful for the support of my family. They did their best to guide me in the right direction and have always been there for me, since they’ve been through it themselves.”
This summer, Stephanie worked as a junior sports specialist at a day camp teaching hockey, softball, basketball, soccer, and tennis to three- to five-year-old kids and tired the kids out. “I’m constantly on the go on my job because the kids are so little. I have to be on top of them, basically making sure that they’re doing the activity properly and that they’re being safe. Having this surgery has definitely helped me be light on my feet and able to move around a lot.”
Now in her final semester at college, Stephanie is looking forward to becoming a teacher and is minoring in disability studies. “I’ll be working in a public school with both kids who are able and those who have disabilities. So why not further my education into the disability world?”
Stephanie said her surgery has completely changed and saved her life. “My confidence has definitely increased. I’m able to do more. If I want to go on vacation, I don’t have to worry about whether or not I’m going to fit in a plane seat or tip a boat over,” she said laughing.
After a period of adjustment for her body to adapt to her new normal, Stephanie began to see a dramatic increase in energy and a brighter future ahead. While everyone’s situation is unique, she also discovered that a plant-based diet works best for her and she has learned to cook healthy meals for herself. But the best thing she says is “being able to keep up with my students and be involved and active with them. It makes me feel like I’ll be the gym teacher for them that I’ve always wanted to have.”
Weight Loss Options
Are you struggling to lose weight or manage potentially life-threatening weight-related health problems such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea and more? Find out if bariatric surgery or options such as diet, exercise, behavioral changes or weight loss medications are right for you. Join Drs. Muhammad Feteiha and Ashish Padnani as they discuss the options, benefits and what to expect as part of Atlantic Health’s Bariatric Surgery Program.
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