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Center for Bariatric Surgery Celebrates 10th Anniversary at NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue

Teenagers among those benefiting from the weight-loss operation

May 31, 2018

Janette Bonilla, patient, before and after bariatric surgery.
New York, NY

The Center for Bariatric Surgery and Weight Management at NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue marked its 10th anniversary this month with a runway show where patients celebrated their dramatic weight losses and new, healthy lifestyles after the life-changing operation.

At the celebration on May 17, about 70 patients participated in the runway show, to the cheers of family members, friends, fellow patients, and hospital staff. Each participant’s “before” photo flashed on a screen, and then that person walked the length of a red carpet to much applause and enthusiastic support.

Since 2008, the center has provided state-of-the-art, minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery to treat severe obesity, and since 2016, the hospital has performed the surgery on teenagers ages 16 and 17 who meet the obesity criteria.

“Congratulations to the Center for Bariatric Surgery and Weight Management for 10 years of improving the quality of life of our patients. The success of the program can be attributed to the dedication of its director, Dr. Manish Parikh, and the entire team, who are committed to delivering outstanding bariatric patient care,” said William Hicks, CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue.

Bariatric surgery causes weight loss by reducing the size of the stomach and restricting the amount of food the stomach can hold. Treatment options include gastric bypass, sleeve gastrectomy, and adjustable gastric banding.

Health results for patients include:

  • Thousands of pounds lost (on average patients lose 50-70% of their excess weight)
  • 60-80% of patients with type 2 diabetes experience complete remission (off medications).
  • 70% of patients with high blood pressure experience complete remission (off medications).
  • 80% of patients with high cholesterol see levels return to normal.
  • 90% of patients with osteoarthritis see significant improvement.

The bariatric program at NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue has grown steadily over the years, from 400 cases in 2012 to 1,037 cases last year. This year doctors project they will perform more than 1,100 procedures. More than 6,500 patients have had the surgery over the 10 years. Of those, seven were teenagers 16 or 17 years old, with three more having turned 18 just before the surgery.

Dr. Parikh said a multidisciplinary team consisting of surgeons, pediatricians, registered dieticians, and mental health specialists helps identify which severely obese adolescents would benefit most from bariatric surgery. The time from when patients are deemed eligible for surgery to when they have the surgery can be 8 to 10 months or longer.

“Current evidence suggests that severely obese adolescents have a high propensity to become severely obese adults with chronic medical conditions such as diabetes and hypertension. There is a growing body of scientific evidence supporting the use of bariatric surgery as early intervention in carefully selected, severely obese adolescents,” Dr. Parikh said.

Ashley’s story

Among those celebrating the bariatric program’s success was Ashley Falcones, who was 15 years old and morbidly obese when she learned about the program from a friend of her mother who had had the surgery herself at NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue. In November 2016 Ashley attended an informational seminar given by Dr. Parikh and signed up for the program. Once accepted, she underwent a rigorous preparation process that lasted nine months before she had the surgery.

“Before the surgery I was 290 pounds, and I had tried so many diets,” said Ashley, now 17. “All my life I’ve always been heavy.” Sophomore year of high school was worse than ever, she said.

“It’s hard to be a teenager and be overweight. If someone would make fun of me, I felt the need to eat. And basically at school that’s all that happened. I was going through a lot of bullying, and I ate to cover up my emotions.”

Like all candidates for bariatric surgery, Ashley was seen by a surgeon, a dietician, and a psychologist. She also saw a pediatrician.

Before the surgery, patients must reduce the amount of food they eat and follow a healthy diet to show they will be able to do so after the surgery. But when she first started the program, Ashley actually gained weight. She was struggling with her confidence, she said.

“I thought I couldn’t get it done. I thought it was hopeless for me to try to do anything about the weight.” But the medical team stuck with her, she said.

“In order to get the surgery, I had to lose a few pounds to show that I could do it,” Ashley said. “They didn’t set a number for me. They said as long as you’re trying and you lose some weight and you show us how bad you want it, you’re going to be fine.”

The process of preparing physically and mentally for the surgery took nine months.

“They basically prepared me for everything.”

She has lost 85 pounds and says she is a happier person. Her mother, father, and older brother are happy for her, and she and her mother now enjoy shopping for clothes together. She and a friend go to the gym to work out every day.

“It’s amazing. Now I feel more confidence in myself, and I really don’t care what other people say.”

Bariatric surgery is also available at two other NYC public health system facilities, NYC Health + Hospitals/Harlem and /Lincoln.

Milestones of the NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue program:

  • 2008 – First case.
  • 2010 – Program receives certification as Center of Excellence by the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery.
  • 2014 – Highest volume program in the region.
  • 2016 – Program named an Accredited Center and Adolescent Bariatric Center by Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Accreditation and Quality Improvement Program (MBSAQIP, a joint program of the American College of Surgeons and American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery).

Informational seminars are held the first Wednesday of the month at NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue. For information about the next seminar, call 212-562-3917.