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For 25-year-old Bianca Lopez, of Elmhurst, weight was always an issue. She tried every diet she could but nothing seemed to work. She even lost 60 pounds in high school, but gained it back. Her problem was keeping the weight off.
Last year, Lopez’s weight had creeped to 298 pounds. Today, she is 128 pounds lighter. Her weight loss journey began with a scare one night in February 2017.
Lopez was watching television with her mom when she suddenly lost feeling in her leg and everything went blurry. She had lost her vision. “I remember sitting on the couch and starting to cry. Within two minutes, it came back,” she says. But the experience shook her up.
Lopez went to her doctor who recommended she see an endocrinologist. When she saw Aarti Manchanda, M.D., endocrinologist with Elmhurst Clinic, Lopez learned she was prediabetic. Unless she could lose some weight, she was at risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
But Lopez had tried to lose weight in the past with no success. Then she heard about a friend of the family who had bariatric surgery. Lopez was determined to have the procedure.
Dr. Manchanda recommended Lopez see Omar Shamsi, M.D., a bariatric and obesity medicine specialist with Endeavor Health® Weight Management at Edward-Elmhurst Health.
“I remember thinking that he would tell me I was too young and wouldn’t let me do the surgery. My heart and mind were set on doing it. I was scared of being told I couldn’t do it. I was scared of rejection more than anything,” she says.
Lopez scheduled an appointment with Dr. Shamsi for March. “I loved Dr. Shamsi since the first time I met him. He let me tell him why I wanted the surgery. He wanted to hear me out right away about why I wanted it, which is not what I was expecting. It made me instantly comfortable,” she says.
Before Lopez could have the surgery, she had to lose 40 pounds to show that she could keep weight off after the procedure. So for the next six months, she worked with Dr. Shamsi and the rest of the Endeavor team, including a dietitian and psychiatrist.
Lopez learned what to eat and what not to eat. She also learned how she would be eating after the surgery, and how to keep the weight off. “The dietitian really prepared me for what was after. I learned how my body was willing to change after surgery, which it has, and not just weight-wise.”
Lopez’s guilty pleasure was bread and candy, so she stopped eating those right away. “I got used to it not being in my diet,” she says. She was also prescribed medication to help curb her appetite, Vyvanse®, an ADHD medication with a side effect of weight loss.
With the surgery only two weeks away, Lopez was moved to a liquid diet. From that alone, she lost 20 pounds.
Lopez had a vertical sleeve gastrectomy procedure on Sept. 18, 2017. Ryan Headley, M.D., an independent bariatric surgeon on the medical staff of Elmhurst Hospital, performed the surgery.
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During the minimally-invasive bariatric procedure, Dr. Headley removed about 85 percent of Lopez’s stomach, creating a sleeve-shaped stomach. This, in turn, limited the amount of food Lopez could eat, helped to decrease her cravings, and helped her feel full after small meals.
“The process and surgery itself, there was nothing painful about it. It’s just finding comfort. You feel uncomfortable for a while but you aren’t in any pain,” she says.
Lopez needed to wait two months after surgery before she could start going to the gym. Today, she tries to go to the gym twice a week, even if it’s just walking for an hour.
So far, Lopez has lost 128 pounds. When she started her weight loss journey, her blood sugar level was 0.4 mg/dl away from becoming a full-blown diabetic. When Lopez had her blood sugar tested recently, she discovered her prediabetes was completely gone.
Lopez has seen other health benefits as well. Her vision has improved. She was able to reduce her prescription strength twice already. She also has more energy and less aches and pains.
“I had leg pain from my weight, and back pain. I don’t have that anymore. My physical health is much better,” she says. “I suffered really badly from asthma because of my weight. I never ran a mile at school. Now I can run a mile easily,” she adds.
Since the bariatric procedure, Lopez has to follow recommendations for diet and vitamin intake to avoid nutritional deficiencies. “I feel great. There are still times when I eat too fast. That’s my biggest struggle today, that I eat too fast and I get pain.”
Now at 170 pounds, Lopez says her goal weight is 140-150. “I know it’s doable. Being able to know that I can get to that weight is a goal in itself,” she says.
Lopez currently works as an assistant manager at Jewel-Osco and is going to school to become a teacher. She works alongside her best friend since first grade, Kristina Kastholm, who has been on a similar weight loss journey. Read Kristina's success story >>
The two had always been heavier together and supported each other’s efforts. Kastholm began seeing Dr. Shamsi soon after Lopez did, and even had the same procedure as Lopez a month later. “To do this with my best friend was amazing,” she says.
The best friends recently took a trip to Nashville, Tennessee together to celebrate 20 years of friendship.
They’re now in the process of trying to find an apartment in the city.
Lopez’s advice to others struggling with their weight? “It’s a subject you never want to directly tell someone because it’s a sensitive subject. But I’ll bring it up to someone who I think could benefit from it. I just want them to realize how amazing it is. If I can influence anyone, it’s great.” she says.
Once Lopez gets to a weight she is happy with, she has the option to have skin removal surgery as the next step.
“It’s only a year and I’m still learning. But I know that I have this lifestyle down for the rest of my life. I know how to handle it now,” she says.
Bianca did it, and you can, too!
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To learn more about your options with Endeavor Health® Weight Management, call 331-221-6100.
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