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Ellen’s Lifesaving Choice

By age 37, the Bensalem woman topped the scale at 379 pounds. “I realized I was too young to be so tired all the time,” Ellen recalls. “There wasn’t a part of my body that didn’t hurt. I’m in sales and I always made excuses not to fly because I couldn’t fit into an airplane seat.” Ellen also knew she wanted to be around for her son Matthew and her husband, Michael. She had developed diabetes and hypertension from the excess weight, placing great strain on her heart. Studies show that individuals who are more than 100 pounds over their ideal weight (if diagnosed before age 45) will lose approximately 20 years of their life to obesity-related complications.

Ellen adds, “I knew I couldn’t lose all of this weight without help. I started looking online at hospital programs for gastric bypass surgery – the only kind of weight loss surgery I’d heard about.” She found Abington - Jefferson Health’s highly regarded Institute for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (IMBS) – and several options that many hospitals don’t offer.

After meeting with the IMBS team, Ellen learned that the best procedure for her would be a “laparoscopic duodenal switch.” This procedure presents significant technical challenges and requires a dedicated, experienced surgical team. The procedure involves making small incisions in the abdomen and manipulating the surgical instruments through these portals.

Guided by magnified video images, IMBS surgical specialists alter the gastrointestinal tract by creating a “Sleeve Stomach” that offers normal stomach function at a reduced size. They bypass the intestine to change food absorption and influence blood sugar control. The procedure offers an 85% excess body weight loss, over 95% cure of Type 2 Diabetes, and a very low weight regain rate. Further, the laparoscopic approach results in a short hospital stay of one to two days, less pain, fewer wound complications, and an earlier return to normal activities. Ellen had the surgery in September 2010. “As soon as I woke up, my diabetes was gone and my hypertension was gone,” she marvels. “I can’t say enough about Dr. Fernando B. Bonanni, Jr., director, Institute for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, and the whole IMBS team, who helped educate me before and after the surgery. They’re so caring and compassionate.”

Today, 220 pounds lighter, Ellen enjoys her renewed energy. She went from taking eight different prescriptions to one, for allergies. Ellen explains that while no weight loss surgery is a magic bullet, it’s a great starting point. “Dr. Bonanni and the IMBS team did their part, and now I’ve been doing mine, and will continue to do mine.”

Eating correctly, based on her body’s needs, is a main focus for Ellen, in terms of staying healthy and keeping her weight down. “If I have to go on sales trips, I make sure I have what I need for my protein intake and other nutritional needs. I’ve also developed a whole network of friends through the support the program offers. I make sure I never miss a chance to participate in follow-up.”  She also prioritizes getting a lot of exercise, which is a major component of post-weight loss surgery life. She even ran a 5k race recently which is something she is very proud of, and is looking forward to an upcoming indoor skydiving trip. Ellen is leading a life she never thought she’d have and embracing all the things she could never do before.

She believes that IMBS “saved and completely changed” her life. Today, she says she can do “anything and everything” without having to think twice. She continues, “I can shop in any store I like because the clothes fit now, and I don’t have to worry about whether or not the seating in restaurants will accommodate me. But, I didn’t go into this to look good on the beach. I chose to live a healthier lifestyle, and my family has been so supportive of me.” The best part about her life now is that she has so much more energy and is able to live a more active life daily life.