Maria Powell, a nurse, was tired of carrying around 212 pounds on her 5-foot frame. Despite being active, she had been overweight her whole life, struggling to maintain her weight loss from fad diets and gaining weight from three high-risk pregnancies. She had been suffering from hypertension since age 22.
In 2010, at the age of 37, Maria made the decision to undergo bariatric surgery.
“I felt ugly. I was suffering from low self-esteem, and I had just had enough. I knew I wouldn’t be having any more kids, and I was nearing 40,” says Maria of her decision. “It was time.”
Maria had to overcome many obstacles before she was able to have her surgery, including an insurance issue. But Maria refused to give up. She continued researching bariatric programs in the area, and decided to look into the program at Bryn Mawr Hospital. Having grown up in Paoli and given birth to her children at Lankenau, she had always had positive experiences with Main Line Health. She made an appointment to visit with Richard Ing, MD, Medical Director of the Bariatric Program at Bryn Mawr Hospital.
“When Maria came in for her first appointment, we worked with her to determine the best solution for her particular situation,” says Dr. Ing. “In this case, it was a vertical gastric sleeve, which generates weight loss by restricting the amount of food that can be eaten.”
In the early months of 2011, Maria was a frequent visitor to Dr. Ing’s office for surgery pre-work, undergoing psychological evaluation, sleep tests and adhering to a strict diet of protein shakes weeks before her surgery. On August 2, 2011, Maria finally had her bariatric surgery, a year and a half after she had begun her journey.
After a 2-day hospital stay, she was sent home and ordered to rest for six weeks. Although she remained inactive during those weeks, the pounds began falling off. “I wasn’t even hungry for more favorite foods anymore,” says Maria. “You could have offered me a steak and I wouldn’t have wanted it. I just wasn’t hungry for it.”
When Maria was cleared to begin eating a regular diet, something still felt strange. She had trouble swallowing, even liquids, and had a difficult time keeping solid food down. She returned to Bryn Mawr for a consultation with Dr. Ing, who diagnosed Maria with a post-operative stricture.
“Maria immediately came back to discuss her issue with me,” explains Dr. Ing. “The scar tissue from her procedure had created a point of narrowing in her stomach. The condition only occurs in one percent of bariatric patients, but it can be resolved with a non-invasive procedure.”
Dr. Ing referred Maria to Dr. Bob Etemad, Medical Director of Endoscopy at Lankenau Medical Center. Dr. Etemad performed a stomach widening procedure on Maria, an hour-long outpatient surgery which alleviated her struggles.
“Dr. Etemad was phenomenal. His bedside manner was remarkable, and it just made it so evident that he truly cares about his patients,” she says of her procedure.
Now, six months after her last surgery, Maria has gone from a size 18 to a size 2, weighing in at 115 pounds. With the help of a Main Line Health nutritionist and trainer, she’s living an active lifestyle and maintaining a healthy diet. She runs five to six miles per day and promises herself to work out every day, even on holidays. Now, instead of fried chicken, she’ll opt for grilled or fill her plate with more fruits and vegetables.
“I’ll never be able to give up my favorite foods, but now I eat only until I’m full, which is something that I never did before,” she says. “My favorite foods are different now than they ever were before.”
As a busy mom with three kids, she admits she still picks up Oreos or frozen pizzas from the grocery store, but has tried to pass on the idea of moderation. As a wife, the surgery brought her a much stronger relationship with her husband of 15 years, who re-proposed to her over Christmas.
“He feels like he has a new wife. He has been my biggest supporter through all of this,” she says.
Maria has also sought support from the monthly Bariatrics Support Group. Like many weight loss patients, she says there are emotional aspects to the surgery that only other candidates can understand. Dr. Ing also attends the support group, and Maria says he’s become more than a physician, she now considers him a friend.
“Dr. Ing is a miracle worker. I can’t thank him and the entire team there enough,” she says. “You can call them and they’ll help you immediately; they’ll talk you off a ledge. It’s simply amazing what they did for me.”