Vanessa’s Victory Voyage: A Weight-Loss Surgery Journey

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“Rome wasn’t built in a day.” When Vanessa Foster heard that phrase from her doctor as she first adjusted to life after her weight-loss surgery, she disliked it. She was impatient, so accustomed to the temporary quick sprint finish lines of fad diets and short-term deadlines of losing weight for specific occasions. “My Baystate Medical Center surgeon, Dr. Jay Kuhn, used that expression after my laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy surgery,” Vanessa recalls. “Now, four years later, I understand what he meant. This journey isn’t one and done. It’s a process and a lifestyle change.”

Dr. Kuhn says the phrase “Rome wasn’t built in a day” is one he often employs with his patients. “It conveys the idea that the process is a long one, but the results can be magnificent,” he says.

The Weight-Loss Battle

Born in Springfield, MA, Vanessa says she has long struggled with her weight. “I first realized I was overweight at age 14,” the now 36-year-old says. “I was at my annual physical and the doctor said that I had to lose a little weight. I grew up hearing ‘you can’t get up from the table until you eat all your food.’ Even if I was full, I still had to eat. I’m also an emotional eater and eat when I’m feeling stress.” At the time, Vanessa participated in national weight-loss programs for teens and tried fad diets, losing a little but always gaining back.

At the age of 24, Vanessa was diagnosed with lipedema, a condition that causes excess adipose tissue (fat) to accumulate in the lower part of the body. “With this condition I also had restless legs syndrome and inflammation in my legs,” says Vanessa. “I remember one year trying to get on a roller coaster. There was a man bigger than me but because of my condition and the size of my hips, I couldn’t fit on the ride.” At 30 years old she had gained what would be her highest weight, reaching 301 pounds.

The decision to have weight-loss surgery became alarmingly clear to Vanessa when she said her weight impacted her ability to reach her 3-year-old son when he ran away from her in the street. “I couldn’t catch up to him and he almost got hit by a car. I realized I can’t even keep up with my kids,” she says.

Seamless and Comprehensive Team Care

“I was 32 years old and was in a non-surgical weight management program at Baystate Medical Center, so I was already familiar with the care team and felt comfortable starting my journey toward surgery with the staff,” says Vanessa.

Baystate Health’s Bariatric Surgery program is comprehensive, going beyond the operation to a total approach to reducing a patient’s weight and improving their health. Baystate Medical Center is accredited by the Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Accreditation and Quality Improvement Program (MBSAQIP), meeting national safety and outcomes standards for all bariatric surgery patients. Caregivers help patients like Vanessa overcome the medical, social, and emotional factors that contribute to weight gain.

“Baystate Bariatric Surgery stands apart due to our commitment for excellent patient-centered obesity care,” says one of Vanessa’s caregivers, Clinical Dietitian Kim Estremera. “We strive to offer individualized treatment for each patient. We have a compassionate team of surgeons, nurses, behavioral health psychologists, dietitians, and mid-level practitioners to support that care. We are also proud to offer current, state-of-the-art treatment options that fit your lifestyle and meet you where you are at on the journey.”

Vanessa’s Team

The program has a comprehensive array of elements to help ensure success which take place before and after surgery. Nutritional counseling, support group meetings, psychological counseling, and preoperative medical testing are all included.

Vanessa credits several members of the team who have made a positive impact on her, including the therapy she had before and after surgery with Baystate psychologist Brenda Temblador. “My time with her was well spent,” she emphasizes. “I am thankful getting her approval was necessary before moving forward with surgery. She helped me identify the root of unhealthy eating habits like Clean Plate Syndrome, which is what I grew up with, and explained the importance of ‘mindful eating.’ I truly feel without this encounter of my journey I would not have been so successful.

And of course, there is Kim Estremera, my dietitian. I thank Kim for her honesty and compassion. She truly listens to my needs and concerns. I’ve always had a bad relationship with food and Kim is amazing at making suggestions to help me stay on track.”a Black woman lifting weights at the gym

“We worked on understanding her food intake and activity levels and how that impacted her weight and health,” says Estremera. “We coordinated Vanessa’s nutritional care together to come up with a plan for eating and exercise that felt comfortable to her and her lifestyle and was sustainable long-term. Vanessa was always very thoughtful and insightful into what her barriers were to self-care. She was willing to come up with creative solutions to help her reach her goals and improve her health.”

“I’m thankful for each piece and portion of this process,” notes Vanessa. “It all fit together like pieces to a puzzle to support me.”

Vanessa’s Bariatric Surgery and Victory Voyage

On April 1, 2019, Vanessa underwent a laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy at Baystate Medical Center. “Small incisions were made in her abdomen where a telescope and instruments are used to permanently reduce the size of her stomach,” explains Dr. Kuhn. “Reducing the size induces an earlier onset of feeling satisfied with food intake. Patients end up eating less because of the persistent effects of the procedure. The small incisions afford a speedier recovery and fewer problems with healing and scarring.” 

Today, Vanessa’s weight is down to 195 pounds, and she says she loves being able to physically keep up with her five active children, ages 10 to 18 – playing basketball, taking walks in the park, and hiking Mt. Tom. “I’m a happy mom who is up and moving with them,” says Vanessa. She works as a patient service representative at Baystate Health. “My favorite hobby is spending time at my gym doing cardio kick boxing and circuit training,” she says. Vanessa says workouts like this before her surgery and weight loss caused pain in her knees, but not anymore.

She has learned how to maintain her weight in a healthy way and serves as a role model and mentor to others. “The work came from her,” says Estremera. “Vanessa has been so inspiring as she transformed her body, her mind, and her health. She has been a presenter in our bariatric support groups and the participants in those groups are always so encouraged by her journey and her attitude of perseverance. She is an advocate of setting boundaries and surrounding yourself with positive influences.”

“I feel that tailoring the care plans for individuals is the best way of conducting a surgical program for weight loss,” says Dr. Kuhn. “The quality and experience of the entire Baystate team; clinical nurses, psychotherapists, dietitians, anesthesia, and operating room staff is second to none and when patients like Ms. Foster present with the resilience and the character and the grit to lift themselves up and pursue their dreams, then they can achieve almost anything.”

Learn more about our Bariatric program and start your weight-loss journey today.

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