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NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue Celebrates 15 Years of Providing Bariatric Surgery to an Underserved Population

Almost 100 patients walked the runway to celebrate their improved physical health after a rigorous program that includes medical, psychiatric and nutritional screening prior to surgery.

Nov 30, 2023

Dacia Kowlessar, a patient of NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue’s Bariatric Surgery Program, seen here walking the runway at the recent 12th Annual Bariatric Celebration and Red Carpet Runway Show.

New York, NY — The Center for Bariatric Surgery and Weight Management at NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue marked its 15th anniversary this month with a patient runway show to celebrate the patients’ dramatic weight losses and new, healthy lifestyles following the life-changing operation. More than 200 people attended the 12th Annual Bariatric Celebration and Red Carpet Runway Show, the first held since 2019 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost 100 bariatric surgery patients participated in the show, walking the red carpet as their “before” photo flashed on a screen and a staff person read their testimonial. Patients strutted their stuff to enthusiastic applause and cheers of support from family members, friends, fellow patients, and accolades from hospital staff. Patients at the event shared their stories here and here.

Cori O’Donnell, a patient of NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue’s Bariatric Surgery Program, walked the red carpet at the recent 12th Annual Bariatric Celebration and Red Carpet Runway Show.

“We started small with a few cases, then a few hundred cases, and then we did a thousand cases, and then 2,000, and this year we’re on the path to do 3,000 cases,” said Nate Link, MD, Chief Medical Officer at NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue. “And that doesn’t even meet the total need. There is such a need for this surgery, and I’m so proud of our team for delivering on that. And I’m proud of you for stepping up and taking the initiative to go through with it. That is the real reason that we’re here to celebrate. You have a lot to be proud of, and we did it all together.”

“We are here to celebrate all of you and your improved health,” said Manish Parikh, MD, director of the Center for Obesity and Weight Management. “The runway show is our favorite time of year, where we see the before and after and the improvement in the health of our patients. I want to express my gratitude to the entire team and all the staff that participate in all the care of our patients.”

Patient Erika Cuasquer and her doctor, Dr. Jeffrey Lipman, at the Red Carpet Runway Show.

The Center for Obesity and Weight Management is a multidisciplinary program accredited by the Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Accreditation and Quality Improvement Program (MBSAQIP). It is dedicated to the comprehensive treatment of obesity and related illnesses, such as diabetes. The program was created in 2008 in response to a growing need for bariatric surgery among an underserved population. It offers a variety of treatment approaches, including bariatric surgery, and the core staff consists of expert clinicians in the fields of surgery, medicine, nutrition, and psychology. Treatment options include gastric bypass, sleeve gastrectomy, and adjustable gastric banding. Patients undergo several months of screening and preparation before undergoing the surgery.

The MBSAQIP accreditation survey called the Bellevue program an “extremely structured program with experienced leadership and efficient processes which combined allow Bellevue to operate as a very high-volume program without sacrificing quality.”

Being overweight and obese has been found to increase the risk of weight-related health problems, including Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, high cholesterol, sleep apnea and certain cancers. On average, bariatric patients lose 50-70% of their excess weight and see significant improvements in their health, including relief from osteoarthritis.

“The weight loss surgery has eliminated my back and knee problems,” said Agueda Olivio, a patient of NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue’s Bariatric Surgery Program, shown here before and after her surgery.

“The surgery saved my life,” said patient Dorka De Los Santos. “Before surgery, I was always tired, pre-diabetic, about to go on blood pressure medication at the age of 48. I had a hard time going up one flight of stairs. Being unable to carry groceries up the stairs or keep up with daily, normal activities with my young son was the wake-up call that something needed to change. I am now free from medication and can keep up with my kids and grandchild.”

Benjamin Mendez, who has lost more than 130 lbs. said, “My A1C went from 11.1 to 5.1, and my blood pressure is normal now. I don’t take any medication or insulin anymore. I went from eight pills a day to zero. I can walk without losing my breath, and I don’t use the CPAP machine anymore. This surgery was a game changer for sure.”

“Bariatric surgery has completely changed my life. This is the happiest and healthiest I’ve ever been, and I finally feel good in my own skin,” said patient Agueda Olivio. “I have learned to enjoy life with my two precious kids and husband. My self-esteem has increased greatly, and I am a happier person. I look at myself and am amazed by the physical, emotional and mental changes. I feel stronger, more active and more energetic. The weight loss surgery has eliminated my back and knee problems.”

“I was suffering from high cholesterol and depression before surgery,” said patient Ana Valentin, who has lost 120 lbs. “Today, I am more active and able to live a healthy lifestyle.  I am less tired and enjoy walking and doing simple things like running errands and getting outside the house more. I used to overeat, but now I can control my eating habits.”

“After bariatric surgery, my high blood pressure normalized. I suffer from arthritis, and with my previous weight, I couldn’t walk. Today, I can walk normally and no longer have the pain I had when I couldn’t walk a block,” said patient Diana Isaza.

“After my gastric sleeve surgery, I feel beautiful again, I have confidence, I do things out of my comfort zone now, and I love life again,” said patient Erika Cuasquer. “I remember that at my heaviest weight, I lost the will to live. I was just surviving. This was more than just a surgery for me – this was a second chance at life.”


MEDIA CONTACT: 212-562-4516; BellevuePublicRelations@nychhc.org

About NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue
NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue is America’s oldest public hospital, established in 1736. Affiliated with the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, the 851-bed hospital is a major referral center for highly complex cases, with 6,000 employees including highly skilled, interdisciplinary clinical staff. The hospital is a Level 1 Trauma Center and annually it sees about 103,000 emergency room visits, more than 520,000 outpatient visits, and almost 200,000 visits to our COVID-19 testing and vaccine centers. Clinical centers of excellence include: Emergency Medicine and Trauma Care; Cardiovascular Services; Bariatric Surgery; Designated Regional Perinatal Center and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit; Children’s Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program; and Cancer Services. For more information, visit www.nychealthandhospitals.org/bellevue and follow us on Facebook and X(Twitter).

About NYC Health + Hospitals
NYC Health + Hospitals is the largest municipal health care system in the nation serving more than a million New Yorkers annually in more than 70 patient care locations across the city’s five boroughs. A robust network of outpatient, neighborhood-based primary and specialty care centers anchors care coordination with the system’s trauma centers, nursing homes, post-acute care centers, home care agency, and MetroPlus health plan—all supported by 11 essential hospitals. Its diverse workforce of more than 43,000 employees is uniquely focused on empowering New Yorkers, without exception, to live the healthiest life possible. For more information, visit www.nychealthandhospitals.org and stay connected on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.