For as long as he could remember, Alexander Vasquez struggled with his weight. His weight rose with the years — 100 pounds in kindergarten, 400 pounds by 9th grade. That trend was briefly reversed each summer, when he spent several months in the Dominican Republic playing outdoors with friends and relatives, only to resume again each fall once he returned to school in New York. He endured the hurtful comments of his peers until he dropped out of high school in his junior year, when he no longer fit into the school’s single chair and desk units.
Alex began the process of researching options for weight loss surgery in his early 20′s. First he tried to arrange for weight loss surgery at St. Luke’s Hospital, but his weight exceeded the hospital’s maximum limit. He tried to lose enough weight to qualify for surgery, but failed. The next year, he went through the same process at Montefiore Hospital, and again, was told he was ineligible for surgery because he was too heavy. He requested surgery at Beth Israel Hospital, and tried losing weight on his own with the help of shedweight.com, to no avail. After these disappointments, Alex said he just stopped trying, and his weight rose to almost 600 pounds. For the next few years, Alex felt resigned to being big forever.
In many respects, thing were going fairly well; Alex was working in a bindery, had a girlfriend, and did not have any other major health issues. But underneath the cheerful facade he portrayed to the world, Alex felt shame and discouragement about his weight. He started having back problems and his knee gave out several times, causing him to fall. Shopping for clothes, he recalls, was impossible in regular stores – the only options were very expensive specialty stores. His fatigue worsened, and he no longer had the strength to keep working. Then one day, he went to drive somewhere with his girlfriend and could not fit behind the steering wheel. He broke down in tears. Admitting that being obese was holding him back in life, Alex made a momentous decision: he did not want to become “a couch person,” as he calls it. “I wanted to grow up and be able to live life.”
With renewed determination, Alex contacted NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia, where he had been born. The Center for Weight Loss Surgery would be able to do his surgery, he was told. Alex soon began pre-surgical evaluations, educational seminars, and monthly weight-ins at Columbia, and later at the Lawrence Hospital, a Columbia affiliate that was closer to home. And to hear Alex tell it, he couldn’t be any happier. “I love Lawrence Hospital – I love everything about it, from the parking attendants to the security guard to all the nurses and doctors on my team. They are fantastic.”
Since his surgery June 7, 2011, Alex has lost over 160 pounds and is ecstatic. He is well on his way to achieving his goal of a healthy weight (between 215 and 230 pounds for his 6’2” frame) by June of 2013. What’s more, his success has inspired him to reach out to others struggling with their weight: he has been posting a series of videos on YouTube in order to let others know that if they are obese, they can change their lives too. “Before my surgery, I was in denial about my weight. I acted like a regular person, but I didn’t look or act like a regular person because I was so big. Now, I want to encourage others like me to seek help, and for those who have surgery, I want to help them by letting them know what they can expect during this process. I’m open about everything because I hope every obese person will choose to come out of denial and find help.”
On the recommendation of his physicians, Alex chose sleeve gastrectomy, a procedure that decreases the size of the stomach helping patients to feel full after eating smaller amounts of food than before surgery. Patients undergoing this procedure can expect to achieve significant weight loss, comparable to the results achieved by gastric bypass surgery, but in a less complicated manner. Alex’s surgeon, Aaron Roth, MD, FACS, says “Alex is one of the most motivated patients in our practice. Like all weight loss operations, the sleeve procedure is a tool to help patients control their weight. It is perfectly suited for patients like Alex who are at very high risk for surgery, one that best balances risk and opportunity for success.”
The Columbia University Center for Obesity Surgery at Lawrence Hospital has been treating patients since 2003. The program offers the convenience and atmosphere of a smaller community hospital in combination with the world-class clinical expertise and research capability found at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. According to Jane Alexander, NP and Clinical Coordinator of the weight loss surgery program, being a part of Columbia University establishes a link with the main hospital to deliver care that other programs cannot. “We offer patients a personalized approach that takes into consideration their physical health, family, and emotional concerns. Being a community hospital, we’re more available and accessible to our patients, enabling us to create a bond and partnership with them. It is extremely rewarding to work with patients like Alex and see the results of hard work and dedication.” Dr. Roth “All patients with or without high risk are are welcome in our practice and are encouraged to come and discuss surgical options with us.”