After years of living with obesity and feeling uncomfortable in her own skin, Kris Gagnon visited the Brigham’s Center for Weight Management and Wellness in 2016 to learn more about her options. She was screened by the center’s surgeons, psychologist and dietitians, who agreed that bariatric surgery could help improve her health over the long term.
Six months later, Gagnon underwent the surgery and lost more than 300 pounds over the next six years.
“I’ve lost more weight than most people weigh themselves,” Gagnon said. “I’m living my best life because the Brigham gave me a second chance.”
The skills and resources Gagnon received at the Center for Weight Management and Wellness provided the support she needed for her successful weight-loss journey.
By focusing on the physical, mental and emotional aspects tied to successful weight loss, the Center for Weight Management and Wellness takes a comprehensive approach to weight management. Unlike many institutions, the Brigham has a three-pronged program — combining bariatric surgery, endoscopic bariatric approaches and obesity medicine — with each component led by world-class experts.
“The center is the reason for my success,” Gagnon said. “No hospital compares to the care we get here. These doctors truly have a dedication and passion for helping patients live healthy lives. This is one of the few programs that follows us for life, and I can access them and their resources for as long as I want. I see my surgeon twice a year, a psychologist anytime I need to and a dietitian every week.”
Endoscopic dietitian Catherine Page, MEd, RD, CDE, recalled how committed Gagnon was to making lasting changes to meet her weight-loss goals.
“Kris is probably one of the most motivated and driven patients I’ve ever worked with,” Page said. “I was always incredibly impressed with how dedicated she is to her health. Anytime I gave her a suggestion, or when we came up with an idea together, she would take it and run with it.”
Dietitians help patients stay on track before surgery and after their recovery. Page explained their team’s dietitians typically first meet with patients monthly for the six months before their surgery, helping them establish healthy habits and a different approach to food, as well as an understanding of meal planning, balanced meals and food shopping. They continue to meet with patients in the immediate post-operative period and over the long term to establish a sustainable plan for maintaining their progress.
Bariatric surgery aids in weight loss in more ways than one. “Because of the changes to the stomach, bariatric surgery not only makes the stomach smaller, but also affects the hormones that control satiety — your sense of fullness and hunger — and how we process and digest food,” added Page.
“Bariatric surgery is also one of the top treatments for cardiac and orthopaedic issues,” added Scott Shikora, MD, FACS, director of the Center for Weight Management and Wellness. “It can put diabetes or high blood pressure in remission or get rid of them altogether. These are very low-risk procedures with the lowest complication rates of all abdominal surgeries. The benefits of the operation dramatically outweigh the risks.”
Since her surgery, Gagnon appreciates the benefits on a daily basis. “Standing in the elevator used to make me winded,” she said. “Now, I walk up five flights of stairs instead of using the elevator.”
Determination and Dedication
In addition to having a supportive care team, Gagnon has shown what one can accomplish with determination. “Once you’re declared a candidate for bariatric surgery, you have to prove you will change your lifestyle for six months before surgery,” Gagnon explained. “You have to change your life and relationship with food. It’s challenging, but you can do it.”
After Gagnon suffered a serious hemorrhagic stroke in 2011, she gained 300 pounds rapidly. “Rapid weight gain is common after serious illnesses or accidents,” explained Page. “A lot of it has to do with stress on the body, which can cause a lot of inflammation and lead to weight gain. In Kris’ case, she also wasn’t able to exercise to the manner she was before she had the stroke. On top of that, she had dietary changes because the stroke created some chewing and swallowing issues that had to be addressed. Certain medications that decrease infection risk can also cause weight gain, as well.”
Gagnon’s first bariatric surgery was a laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy, which was later converted to a gastric bypass to help alleviate her chronic case of gastritis and acid reflux, the latter of which she still manages. “It was not an easy road for her, but she fought and accomplished what I would have never predicted,” said Shikora. “Despite her challenges, she would always come into the clinic smiling and happy. She’s a real fighter.”
Gagnon hopes her success inspires others who are interested in bariatric surgery. “If I can do it, anyone can. You will have hard days, but every struggle will be worth it,” she said. “It’s the most rewarding thing you will ever do for yourself.”