At only 22 years old, Mariah Rodriguez’s lifelong battle with her weight had come to this: She struggled to walk from her car up to her attic bedroom, she was uncomfortable going out with friends, and she was on the verge of developing diabetes.
Having had no success losing weight with diet and exercise, the Manalapan woman decided to pursue an effective and lasting approach to weight loss — bariatric surgery.
“I wanted to be healthy, and I wanted my happiness back,” Mariah says. “I am so young, and I thought there’s no way I should be living like this.”
While surgery was a difficult decision, Mariah had a role model: Her mother, Cara Santana, had lost 100 pounds since having bariatric surgery three years prior. Cara supported her daughter, but also warned her of the challenges ahead.
“People think, ‘Oh, surgery is the easy way out,’ but it’s not — it’s a tool to help you battle the disease of obesity,” says Cara, a 47-year-old medical office business manager from Manalapan. “You mentally have to be ready for your body to change and for your eating habits to change.”
More Than Just an Operation
Mariah, like her mother, underwent a sleeve gastrectomy procedure with Seun Sowemimo, MD, FACS, a board-certified and fellowship-trained bariatric surgeon on staff at CentraState Medical Center. Sleeve gastrectomy reduces the size of the stomach by 85 percent, which limits the amount a person can eat and reduces their desire to eat by lowering a hunger-producing hormone in the body called ghrelin.
“People really feel less hungry, if at all,” Dr. Sowemimo says. “It comes to the point for some people where they have to remind themselves to eat.”
In addition to advanced surgical procedures, bariatric patients at CentraState have access to presurgical counseling, monthly support groups, and group exercise outings.
“Bariatric surgery can help eliminate some of the medical problems related to obesity, but it’s also about improving your day-to-day quality of life,” Dr. Sowemimo says. “People who are morbidly obese feel like they don’t fit in and that they have to be on the sidelines of life, rather than in the mainstream.”
Another Family Member is Inspired
Within a year after her surgery, Mariah had lost 115 pounds. Friends and family members took notice, including her grandmother, Nisha Stasulli. After maintaining a healthy weight for most of her life, Nisha was unable to lose the weight she had gained after recovering from breast cancer treatment, The 66-year-old Howell woman became the third generation of her family to have sleeve gastrectomy with Dr. Sowemimo. She has since lost 60 pounds.
“What a transformation,” she says. “I don’t have sleep apnea anymore, I can walk farther now, I’m breathing better, my hips no longer hurt — all of those problems came from being overweight.”
The three women, who have lost more than 260 combined pounds, all say the procedure was nothing but a positive experience.
“Dr. Sowemimo and his staff are phenomenal,” Cara says. “I wish I could have done it when I was 22 like my daughter, because it has been the best thing I’ve ever done for my health.”
Since her transformation, Mariah is working a busy job as a waitress at an Italian restaurant and has an active social life with her friends.
“When I see people I went to high school with, they’re shocked and don’t know what to say,” Mariah says. “If I show strangers pictures of myself when I was heavier, they say, ‘No way.’ They don’t believe it’s me.”