On cool days busy paralegal Shelley Love grabs her iPod and hoofs it up the steep Buffalo Street hill in about ten minutes from her downtown Ithaca office. Then she. circles back down the winding Cascadilla Gorge Trail for a total distance of 1.36 miles up and down hilly, twisting terrain. She does this in a little more than thirty minutes, usually during her lunch break.
Love had Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery at Cayuga Medical Center on April 22, 2014. Over the next fourteen months she lost 131 pounds, nearly half of her body weight. Her body mass index has dropped from 46 to 25.5 and she’s gone from wearing size 28 clothes to sizes 8 and 10. “I haven’t been this size since I was in junior high school,” says Love. “I’ve been overweight my entire life; to be this weight now seems unreal. I feel so much better!”
The past three years have seen many changes in Love’s life. She married her husband, Lawrence Love, and they created a blended family of four children between the ages of seven and sixteen. She made the decision to become healthy by losing weight successfully with bariatric (weight-loss) surgery. She altered the way she eats and the way she prepares food for her family. And she became physically active.
“I used to say that ‘running’ was not a word in my vocabulary, but now I consider myself a runner,” admits Love, who regularly competes in local races. “When we joined our families and our households, I got rid of a couch in our living room to make room for a treadmill. I’ve done the 5K Chili Challenge in Taughannock State Park twice, running it with my husband and Sam [her 14-year-old daughter]. In 2013 the run took me 70 minutes, and in 2014 I finished in just under 50 minutes.” Love and her husband also hike all over the place now, including a 13-mile walk around Harvard and downtown Boston on a recent visit to New England. As a result of her lifestyle changes and commitment, Love has had exceptional success in her efforts to lose weight.
Coming to the decision
Love put a lot of thought into her decision to have bariatric surgery, motivated by a significant family history of diabetes and high blood pressure. “I didn’t have these health problems yet, but I knew if I didn’t lose weight, I would develop them,” says Love. She was, however, struggling with severe sleep apnea that required her to use a C-PAP (continuous positive air pressure) machine every night. Painful plantar fasciitis in both feet also made it very difficult for her to walk. “It felt like I had a railroad spike in each of my heels,” she says.
Hearing good things about Surgical Associates of Ithaca and the Cayuga Center for Bariatric Surgery, attending an information session on bariatric surgery with Dr. John Mecenas, joining the bariatric surgery support group, and seeing the nutritionist at the Cayuga Center for Healthy Living helped Love with her decision to move ahead. “Once I make up my mind to do something, I do it,” she says. “Failure at this is not an option.” Mecenas, a board-certified general surgeon with fellowship training in minimally invasive surgery and bariatric surgery, performed the laparoscopic gastric bypass surgery through six small incisions. Love recovered quickly and returned to work two weeks later, a week ahead of the typical recovery time for this type of surgery.
About 11 months after her bypass surgery Love returned to Cayuga Medical Center for hernia surgery. Abdominal hernias can occur when patients lose a significant amount of weight, as Love did. As internal fat diminishes, leaving space in the abdomen, sometimes a portion of the intestine will migrate into that space. The problem was urgent and was diagnosed quickly and remedied by Dr. Brian Bollo of Surgical Associates, a colleague of Dr. Mecenas who also specializes in minimally invasive surgery and bariatric surgery. The hernia surgery was also performed laparoscopically through small incisions, leaving very minimal scars. “My doctors and nurses at Cayuga Medical Center were phenomenal,” says Love.
“It is really important for people considering bariatric surgery to determine whether they have the willpower to do this,” says Love. “You have to be able to make significant changes in your life and stick with it. It takes effort and it takes a good support network of family and friends. We are eating a much healthier diet now, with very little processed food,” she adds. “My husband and kids have benefited; we eat mostly chicken and fish and very little red meat.” Turkey burgers made with zucchini are a big family hit. (Sam declares them her favorite meal and says, “They taste heavenly!”)
Love cherishes her new life. As a result of losing weight, her sleep apnea and excruciating plantar fasciitis have both abated. She says she feels grateful and blessed. “I would make the decision to have this surgery again in a heartbeat,” she says. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done and one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”