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Weight loss surgery: Way to a Healthier Life

Some people struggle with their weight for their entire life, but for Raul Collazo of Easthampton, he couldn’t wait any longer – his weight was killing him.

Some people struggle with their weight for their entire life, but for Raul Collazo of Easthampton, he couldn’t wait any longer – his weight was killing him.

"My weight fluctuated while I was a youngster, but by the time I reached adulthood, my weight had grown to 250 pounds. I was lifting weights, which helped to control my weight somewhat, but I had terrible eating habits,” Collazo said.

“About nine years ago something changed and my weight ballooned to 320 pounds, and all of my health issues began to emerge. I developed diabetes, high blood pressure, neuropathy in my leg, and a bulging disc in my back, making it hard for me to walk. I developed sleep apnea and had to use a CPAP machine at night to control my snoring,” he added.

Collazo’s primary care physician was worried about his health and referred him to Baystate Medical Center as a possible candidate for bariatric (weight loss) surgery.

“I attended an educational session at the hospital led by bariatric surgeon Dr. John Romanelli, who eventually performed my surgery, and he spoke about the pros and cons of bariatric surgery. But after learning more about the surgery I got scared, and decided to try the nonsurgical route first, which involved losing weight under the guidance of a dietitian,” Collazo, 41, said.

After a year, Collazo realized he “just couldn’t do it.” But it wasn’t for a lack of trying. “I tried, but just kept falling back (into bad habits) and didn’t lose the weight as I should have,” he said.

“Then I realized that going through with the surgery wasn’t just of benefit to me, but to my wife and son so I could lead a long healthy life with them,” added Collazo, who was finally ready to fully commit to weight loss as a lifelong journey.

On August 2, 2016, Collazo underwent laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy.The concept of the sleeve is that the stomach will rapidly fill to the top because the stomach is greatly reduced in capacity. This allows patients to get full, despite reducing their portion size, while taking in fewer overall calories. The one unique characteristic about sleeve gastrectomy is that it is permanent - the remainder of the stomach is removed and taken out of the body, as opposed to gastric bypass, where it is disconnected from the gastric pouch but left in the body. The patient can expect to lose up to 60% of their pounds over their ideal body weight.

“Raul was a great candidate for sleeve gastrectomy, and a wonderful patient to work with who did really well,” said Dr. Romanelli.

Thanks to his surgery and his determination to lead a healthier lifestyle, Collazo’s weight eventually dropped from 320 to 195 pounds in the first year.

“Dr. Romanelli told me that bariatric surgery is not a miracle fix, but a tool to weight loss, and that you must lead a healthy lifestyle after the surgery and for the rest of your life if you want to keep your weight at a healthy level,” Collazo said.

Today, Collazo is happy with his new life.

“I set goals for myself……to start walking and eventually start weightlifting again after getting clearance from Dr. Romanelli. I don’t eat junk food any longer, fried foods are out as well as all the other unhealthy stuff, and I’m sticking to my weight loss management plan,” Collazo said.

“I have no more health issues. I’m off medicine for high blood pressure and diabetes. Losing the weight also helped relieve the pressure on my bulging disc and helped with my neuropathy. I’m at a good weight and maintaining thanks to exercise and healthy eating. I did gain some weight and am now 210 pounds. But the weight gain is attributed to muscle mass after weightlifting again,” he added.

Obesity is a major concern among health professionals like Dr. Romanelli because it is associated with many major health risks.

“Every body system is affected negatively by obesity. Obesity contributes to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, breathing problems, diabetes, acid reflux, sexual dysfunction, psychological problems and some cancers including breast, prostate and colon,” said Dr. Romanelli.

“Only one percent of morbidly obese people seek weight loss surgery. Part of the problem is that people don’t realize that obesity is an illness and don’t treat it as an illness. But, it is a major disease that is being undertreated and that is why numbers will rise,” he added.

Surgery is only recommended when diet, exercise, and behavioral change have failed, and when the perceived benefits outweigh the recognized risks. And for patients who are deemed candidates for the surgery, the hospital offers an array of post-surgical medical and emotional support, including continued nutritional and psychological counseling, metabolic monitoring, and support groups.

In addition to the need to make behavioral changes, eligible candidates for weight loss surgery must be between the ages of 18 and 70, have a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher, or 35 or higher (translated into approximately 100 pounds over their ideal weight) with obesity-related medical problems.

“Dr. Romanelli is an awesome doctor with a great sense of humor. We were a good fit together,” Collazo said.

For more information about bariatric surgery, call 413-794-7020 in the Springfield area or 413-794-2670 in the Northampton area, or visit baystatehealth.org/services/weight-management.