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Bariatric surgery helps woman shed 100 pounds, gain confidence

May 22, 2015

Lizz Phillips believes that her bariatric surgeon, nurses, dietitian and social worker have done the impossible: They've made air travel a pleasant experience.

Previously, she was miserable when she had to squeeze into the confines of an airplane seat.

“Flying on an airplane is amazing now,” she says. “To sit in the seat with the seat belt, and you don’t have to ask them for an extra belt — that is amazing. It’s the little things, but also the big things.”

Phillips, 52, has lost more than 100 pounds since Dr. Ninh Nguyen, head of UCI Health Bariatric Surgery Services, performed a vertical sleeve gastrectomy in July 2013.

Making the decision

Phillips had been struggling with her weight for more than 22 years, ever since the birth of her daughter.

lizzbeforeWith 208 pounds on her five-foot frame at her heaviest, she began to develop a host of medical problems, including sleep apnea and borderline diabetic symptoms.

“I was pretty much resigned to the fact that I was going to be overweight for the rest of my life,” Phillips says.

“When I realized that I couldn’t walk across the room without panting, I knew I couldn’t do it anymore.”

Phillips decision to lose weight surgically was the first big step; next for Phillips was choosing which procedure was right for her: Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, vertical sleeve gastrectomy or adjustable gastric banding.

Each had the potential to help Phillips shed dozens of pounds, but the procedures would also alter her diet, her physical activities and lifestyle for the rest her life. Seeking a permanent, nonreversible solution, Phillips opted for vertical sleeve gastrectomy.

A minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery, vertical sleeve gastrectomy removes three-fourths of the stomach. This is performed with a stapling device that closes and divides the stomach tissue, making the stomach smaller and providing food restriction without altering the absorptive capacity of the bowel.

With the sleeve, Phillips knows there’s no going back.

“Unless you choose to destroy yourself again, it’s permanent. You have to make those choices, or you’re going to stretch your stomach out again.”

More than surgery

Phillips knew going in that surgery was just the beginning if she wanted to improve her life. It would also take a healthy, active lifestyle and ongoing support.

In addition to watching what she eats — fresh vegetables are her favorite — Phillips walks five miles a day and attends support groups monthly. There, she speaks with other bariatric surgery patients who know exactly what’s she is going through.

“I’ve had my standstills where I thought I was going to fail,” says Phillips. “This is where the support group comes in.”

At support group meetings, Phillips also makes it a point to share her experience with patients who are early in their bariatric surgery journey.

New patients are often skeptical of Phillips at first. “They look at me like, ‘Who are you to know what we’re going through?’”

Then she shows them her “before” picture. “They look at it and they say, “‘Okay, maybe she does know what she’s talking about. Maybe she can help us.’ That always makes me feel good.”

Nguyen also stresses the importance of bariatric patients attending support groups as part of their post-surgery regimen. He notes that patients tend to be more successful when it comes to changing their lifestyles because they’re held accountable by a group of their peers who can also help them along the way.

“They keep themselves in check,” Nguyen says. “They make adjustments. People who don’t come to support groups don’t make any adjustments. They just live.”

A new outlook

Phillips’ new body and new outlook on life bring with them a host of new experiences and opportunities.

For the first time, she can enjoy roller coasters and spend a whole day walking through a theme park with her daughter. She gets a kick out of the reaction she gets from friends and strangers, who are amazed at her transformation.

With weight loss came confidence.

“There comes a certain amount of confidence once you’ve made that change,” Phillips says. ”It does help you to feel better about yourself, and I think that coincides with wanting to succeed more.“

Phillips has big plans: someday, she wants to try rock climbing. But whatever she does, she has a high bar set for herself.

”Maybe I’m afraid to stop, because I don’t want to fail. I’m not going to stop. I’m not going to let anything stop me from succeeding.”

— Justin Petruccelli, UCI Health Marketing & Communications