Some people struggle with their weight for their entire life. But Raul Collazo of Easthampton, MA 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.
But nine years ago, something changed. His weight increased to 320 pounds.
With that increase came a laundry list of medical issues:
- High blood pressure
- Neuropathy (pain from nerve damage) in his leg
- A bulging disc in his back, making it hard for him to walk
- Sleep apnea
“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,” bariatric surgeon Dr. John Romanelli said.
Is bariatric surgery the right choice?
Collazo’s primary care doctor was worried about his health and referred him to Baystate Medical Center as a possible candidate for bariatric (weight loss) surgery.
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 candidates for the surgery, the hospital offers post-surgical medical and emotional support including continued nutritional and psychological counseling, metabolic monitoring, and support groups.
Eligible candidates for weight loss surgery are 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. 41-year-old Collazo went to an educational session at the hospital led by Dr. Romanelli, who eventually performed his surgery.
“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. It involved losing weight under the guidance of a dietitian,” Collazo said.
After a year, Collazo realized he “just couldn’t do it.” He kept falling back into bad habits.
“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,” Collazo said.
He was finally ready to commit to weight loss as a lifelong journey.
Not a miracle fix, but a tool for weight loss
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 patient can expect to lose up to 60% of their pounds over their ideal body weight.
The one unique characteristic about sleeve gastrectomy is that it is permanent. The rest 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.
“Raul was a great candidate for sleeve gastrectomy, and a wonderful patient to work with,” Dr. Romanelli said.
Collazo’s weight dropped from 320 to 195 pounds in the first year, thanks to his surgery and his determination to lead a healthier lifestyle.
“Dr. Romanelli told me that bariatric surgery is not a miracle fix, but a tool to weight loss. He said 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 explained.
A healthier lifestyle
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. I’m sticking to my weight loss management plan,” Collazo said.
All of his health issues have been resolved as well. Collazo is off medicine for high blood pressure and diabetes. Losing the weight also helped relieve the pressure on his bulging disc and helped with his neuropathy.
“I did gain some weight and am now 210 pounds. But the weight gain is attributed to muscle mass after weightlifting again,” he added.
Find out if you’re a candidate for bariatric surgery at Baystate Health.