side by side image of before and after of Lauren Burkhalter UTMB Health Bariatrics patient

More than a number on the scale: Lives transformed by bariatric surgery at UTMB Health

Side by side before and after images of UTMB Health Bariatrics patient Lauren Burkhalter

Under the care of UTMB Health doctors, patients suffering from obesity can undergo minimally invasive bariatric surgery and transform their lives forever.

Dr. Sarah Samreen, director of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery at UTMB Health, said she has a mission of removing the taboo of having bariatric surgery since society does not consider other medical conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure taboo.

“The reason I bring that up is that obesity is like any other disease,” Samreen said. “We have tons of literature showing that it has nothing to do with people being lazy, it’s an ailment. Some specific people have genetic reasons, or it can have to do with our metabolism.”

Plus, when it comes to obesity, there may be deeper root causes that can't be resolved right away, according to Samreen.

“The first thing that we have to do is take away the negativity around obesity because that sometimes prevents patients from reaching out for help,” Samreen said. “They feel that maybe [they] have failed and haven't been able to do it on [their] own.”

In general, the bariatric weight loss program takes between three and six months to complete, but will vary based on the patient and insurance provider requirements. The program includes monthly weight checks, dietary counseling, mental health counseling, imaging and blood tests to ensure the patient is healthy and ready for surgery.

The success of bariatric surgery depends heavily on the commitment of the patient, specifically when it comes to lifestyle changes around nutrition, movement and mental well-being, Samreen said.

"People think that our weight is determined by exercise. While exercise is important for heart health and muscle mass, our weight is directly associated with what we put in our mouths,” Samreen said.” With so much emphasis and focus on the physical change, it’s important to not neglect one’s mental health during this process. Individuals need to be prepared to have social and mental health support during this journey.”

UTMB Health patient Lauren Burkhalter recently underwent bariatric surgery and said she has since seen her life transform before her eyes.

“I’m living my best life. A life I want to live,” Burkhalter said. “I feel so much better after the surgery, and I know for a fact other people will, too.”

Burkhalter addressed the misconception that once the surgery is performed, all of the weight is automatically lost.

“My biggest advice for people is to remember it's a process. You're going to have to be patient with yourself and your body,” Burkhalter said. “It's a great tool that has saved my life. Remember that you will get to your goal.”

Samreen said one of the other common misconceptions about bariatric surgery is that people think they're failing if they're considering surgery.

"Surgery is not easy. It's a lifelong commitment. It's a tool that is helping just like any other tool and it's not taking the easy route. It's seeking treatment for what you need treatment for. The second misconception is that somehow it's radical. It's not, it's minimally invasive surgery,” Samreen said. “Thirdly, we often hear from patients that they have heard of someone in the past having complications or dying. Complications can occur, but it's no more complicated than any other elective surgery. We have made bariatric surgery safer than getting your appendix out."

A living testament to the process, Burkhalter reminds folks that weight loss surgery is about you, how you feel and not about what other people think.

“I'm living a whole different lifestyle. I've solo traveled, I went on a cruise by myself. I'm doing things that I wouldn't do before and it’s your happiness,” Burkhalter said. “It's so much more than just a number on the scale. And so I would say do it for you. Because you're the only one that has to live in this body, and you need to be comfortable.”

According to the newest American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) Guidelines, metabolic and bariatric surgery is recommended for individuals with a body mass index of 35 and over, regardless of obesity-related conditions, as well as those who have a metabolic disease and BMI of 30-34.9. Medical conditions that qualify include diabetes, high blood pressure, fatty liver, heart disease, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis and pseudotumor cerebri.

Currently, insurance guidelines have not caught up with the ASMBS guidelines as anyone with a BMI of 35 and a medical problem qualifies, whereas anyone with a BMI of 40 or more does not.

"ASMBS guidelines are changing because we're realizing that we are seeing more and more medical problems at a lower weight, and there are real consequences,” Samreen said.

As an added benefit of having bariatric surgery at UTMB Health, patients will receive world-class care before, during and after surgery, including follow-up care that includes a bariatric support group where patients can share healthy recipes, tips for success, and personal journey experiences.

“A big part of having a successful bariatric experience is having support to not revert back to your old ways, so it's great that they're constantly checking in with you, too,” Burkhalter said. “Because of that level of care, I highly recommend UTMB."

Learn more about minimally invasive bariatric surgery at UTMB Health

The above story was produced by Holly Galvan with Community Impact's Storytelling team with information solely provided by the local business as part of their "sponsored content" purchase through our advertising team. Our integrity promise to our readers is to clearly identify all CI Storytelling posts so they are separate from the content decided upon, researched and written by our journalism department.