Denise Allen, 44, of Lombard, Illinois, had been on a cycle of failed diets her whole life. “Every time I tried to lose weight, it would be successful in beginning and then I always gained the weight back,” she says. In September 2016, at 239 pounds, Allen went to a bariatric seminar that changed everything.
There, Allen heard success stories of patients who had weight loss surgery. One man brought in an old pair of jeans, much larger than his current size, and held them up.
“It was amazing. I thought, ‘maybe this could be me,’” she says. One of her good childhood friends, Cari, also had bariatric surgery and said it was a life-changer for her. “Cari shared her story with me. She looked phenomenal, and she felt great too,” she says. Allen decided to find out more.
She made an appointment with Mark Choh, M.D., an independent bariatric surgeon on the medical staff of Elmhurst Hospital and part of Edward-Elmhurst Health’s Endeavor Health® Management team. From there, Allen saw the rest of the team, including bariatric and obesity medicine specialist Omar Shamsi, M.D., along with a dietitian, a psychologist and nurses.
“The whole team was phenomenal. You don’t find doctors like that anymore,” she says.
With a substantial family history of heart disease, Allen needed to visit a cardiologist and other specialists before she was cleared for surgery. “They wanted to make sure I was completely healthy for the procedure. I had a lot of appointments, but it was well worth it,” she says.
Allen met with Elmer Murdock, M.D., independent cardiologist on the medical staff of Elmhurst Hospital and Edward Hospital, and had a nuclear stress test to ensure her heart was in good condition for surgery.
Allen had also developed a hiatal hernia, which occurs when the upper part of the stomach pushes up into an opening in the diaphragm. So she saw George Stathopoulos, M.D., gastroenterologist with Elmhurst Clinic, for a barium swallow test.
She also saw Michael Moore, M.D., a pulmonologist with Elmhurst Clinic, for a lung function test. Dr. Moore sent her for a sleep study and Allen was diagnosed with sleep apnea, a disorder that causes breathing to stop or get very shallow during sleep. She started using a continuous positive airway pressure machine (CPAP) to sleep at night.
In the months leading up to surgery, Allen continued to meet with Dr. Shamsi and the team. Although she didn’t have to lose weight prior to surgery, she had to watch what she was eating and maintain her weight.
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Allen went to support groups as well, which she says were very helpful. “You meet real people who had the surgeries. You learn from them. You pick up tips and tricks, which is key. You feel so much safer when you see so much success around you. You know you can do it because they did,” she says.
On Oct. 9, 2017, Dr. Choh performed Allen’s gastric sleeve surgery (also called a vertical sleeve gastrectomy), which reduced the size of her stomach by about 85 percent. During the surgery, Allen also had her hiatal hernia repaired.
Two weeks after surgery, she was back to work. Although she says she could have returned after a week, she decided to take the time for her new stomach to adjust to eating and drinking.
Allen says the most difficult part of surgery was the liquid diet she was on at first. Fortunately, she felt total support from the team. “My experience was the best. The nurses that help you the whole time after surgery are incredible,” she says.
Since surgery, Allen says she has listened to everything her doctors have told her, diligently following her plan of protein, portion control and exercise. “Gastric sleeve has helped me succeed. This is my chance to do it. And I’m not messing it up. It feels too good to be thinner. I wish I did this sooner,” she says.
Allen was a size 20 in jeans before surgery, and now she’s down to a size 8. She works out regularly. Her sleep apnea has improved and she no longer needs the breathing machine to sleep. She now weighs 159 pounds.
“I learned that I can actually live my life again. I’m able to do things that when I was obese I could not do,” she says. Allen says she’s looking forward to kayaking again and learning to ride her kid’s dirt bike — something being overweight didn’t allow her to do. She’s now jogging 4 miles at a time.
She adds, “I’m living again. I have so much more energy. I had none before. I can look in the mirror and be proud of my success. I’m not 100 percent where I want to be yet, but I know I will get there soon and never look back!”
Allen’s husband, Mark, 45, is currently seeing Dr. Shamsi for his own weight loss goals. She says that he’s reluctant to have the surgery so Dr. Shamsi is trying other options. Allen plans to bring Mark to a bariatric seminar with her so he can hear other people’s success stories.
“I really feel like I’m in high school again. People tell me that I look like the Denise when I got married to my husband 18 years ago. I’m so happy.” Allen and her husband have three boys, ages 16, 15 and 12.
Allen says she shares her story with everyone who asks. “I want other people to know that this really works. It works and it’s going to make you happier. Make that appointment. It’s a life-saving operation in my eyes. It’s a game changer!”
As for what the future holds for Allen? “I don’t have to live to eat anymore, I eat to live now. That’s been very awesome. Food doesn’t own me anymore,” she says. “For the first time in my life, the scale is not as important to me. I finally feel good with the way I am. Finally.”
Denise 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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