Patients share experiences with weight loss surgery

With obesity rates rising, some people are turning to bariatric surgery to help them lose weight. Michele Rothstein of Summerlin is one of those people.

She is the owner/operator of Balloons With a Twist. At one point, she weighed 359 pounds and wore a size 32 dress.

“Before I went to bed at night, I would feel for my heart to make sure it was beating,” she said. “I was scared that I wouldn’t wake up in the morning. I was the funny girl, and I put on a brave face for people, but I was … not happy.”

It was difficult for her to walk upstairs or for long distances. She had lower back pain daily and sciatic nerve issues. When out with friends, she would eat a normal portion. But when she got home, she said she would “eat all over again –– Doritos and pizza and ice cream –– really unhealthy foods at night after having a full day’s meals.”

Rothstein was an expert at yo-yo dieting, trying every program available. One time she lost 80 pounds. She gained back 100. She said bariatric surgery was her last hope.

She underwent gastric bypass surgery in 2005, a procedure that left her stomach the size of her thumb. Now her meals are small, consisting of 60 percent vegetables, 30 percent lean protein and 10 percent good fats, such as avocado.

The weight “came off extremely quickly,” she said. “I lost 100 pounds the first six months.”

She joined a gym and soon lost another 100 pounds. Rothstein began running, lost even more and completed a marathon in 2007. Now, exercising is a normal part of her day.

Dr. Francis Teng has been doing bariatric surgery in Las Vegas for the past 12 years. He has operated on more than 1,000 patients at MountainView Hospital and Summerlin Hospital Medical Center.

Teng regularly holds informational seminars that cover surgery options, such as who is an appropriate candidate and what to expect afterward. Seminars are scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday and 6 p.m. April 24 at MountainView Hospital, 3100 N. Tenaya Way.

The seminars are free, although registration is required. To register, call 702-233-5300.

Two of Teng’s success stories are Pat Thelen, 61, of North Las Vegas, and her daughter, Michelle, 37. They underwent surgery in May 2011 on the same day in a kind of buddy approach. The surgery was followed by six weeks of liquid foods.

“You get pretty tired of Jell-O and bouillon,” Pat said.

That was followed by solid foods, a ½ cup per meal. They saw the weight melting off. At one point, they each dropped a dress size a month. Pat has lost 120 pounds and Michelle 185.

Now, going out to eat means sharing an entree and still taking home leftovers. Both are more active, and their health issues have diminished.

Love came with losing weight. Michelle met a man, Russ, who had banished his own weight issues by turning to running. Now they enjoy hiking and tennis together. They are engaged and planning their wedding.

“I’m getting to know ‘me’ now,” Michelle said. “I’ll catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and go, ‘Oh, that’s right, that’s what I look like now.’ … People are treating me the way I always felt I should be treated.”

Bariatric surgery comes in different forms. Gastric bypass surgically reroutes the small colon and bypasses the stomach to avoid absorption. The vertical sleeve gastrectomy, or gastric sleeve, requires slicing off most of the stomach, leaving only a vertical section (the sleeve) from the esophagus to the duodenum to process food. The Lap-Band secures a tube around the neck of the stomach, and it is filled with fluid to the desired restriction. Although it requires that a port be installed in the abdominal wall so more fluid can be pumped periodically into the tube, tightening it for optimum results, it is also the least invasive procedure.

When it comes to gender, women comprise 80 to 85 percent of Teng’s patients. That does not mean there are fewer overweight men.

“I think for men, they see it as an ego problem,” Teng said. “You know, ‘I’m a man, and I shouldn’t have to have surgery to lose weight; I’ll just go to the gym and work out, and I can work this off.’ ”

Patients go on a liquid protein diet beforehand to shrink the liver, which is often engorged in obese patients. How much should they lose?

“The sky’s the limit,” Teng said. “The more weight you lose … before the process, (the better). No. 1, you’re going to recover from surgery, from the side effects of anesthesia (faster), and No. 2, it’s an easier operation to perform.”

Bariatric surgery is no guarantee of weight loss, he stressed. It requires learning new eating habits, changing one’s lifestyle and going on an exercise plan.

Teng said if an insurance company declines to pay for the surgery, it can be paid for outright –– about $15,000 –– and paid off in monthly installments, “just like a car.”

What would Rothstein tell those thinking about bariatric surgery?

“I’ve talked to a lot of people who go, ‘Hey, I’m thinking of having gastric bypass surgery,’ and they’re, like, 40 pounds overweight,” she said. “And I’m like, ‘Listen, try everything you can before you go that route.’ I mean, it’s not an ‘easy out.’ There’s definitely a risk involved. I ended up back in the hospital with an adhesion that blocked my bowels … If I would have gotten to the hospital 20 minutes later, I could have ended up with a colostomy bag for the rest of my life. It’s not to be taken lightly.”

She said the surgery changed her quality of life. Yes, there are still food cravings, still weak moments, but she surrounds herself with others who are motivated and signs up for programs such as a 30-day, no-sugar challenge. The procedure, she said, changed her body and changed her mind-set.

“If I had a chance to do it over again, would I? Absolutely,” Rothstein said.

Contact Summerlin/Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at or 702-387-2949.

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