Barbara Vargas remembers the day that she decided to have weight loss surgery like it was yesterday. She was headed to Myrtle Beach for a family vacation when she couldn’t fasten her seatbelt on the plane. The Sayreville mom of two had suffered from obesity for most of her adult life, but for the first time, she had to ask for a seatbelt extender. Her embarrassment grew as she was told by the flight attendant that she would need to switch seats. She was seated in an emergency row and it was against regulations to use extenders there, she was told. The plane stopped taxiing, as flight attendants asked those around her if they would trade seats. She was mortified.
“I wanted to cry,” Barbara recalls. “I realized that this was no way to live.”
A few co-workers recommended that she talk with bariatric surgeon Seun Sowemimo, MD. Barbara had tried a variety of diets in the past, but the weight always returned. She was ready to find a solution that would be sustainable.
In July 2017, Barbara had gastric sleeve surgery, a minimally invasive procedure that removes three-quarters of the stomach, leaving just a small, narrow pouch. The surgery helps patients lose weight by restricting the amount of food they can eat and reducing the production of ghrelin, a hormone associated with hunger.
Barbara followed Dr. Sowemimo’s post-operation instructions carefully. She met with a nutritionist, attended support groups, and worked exercise into her busy lifestyle.
“I had done it my way for 48 years and it didn’t work, so this time I wanted to do it right,” Barbara says.
Hooked on Healthy Habits
Two years later, she has lost 110 pounds. She still attends Dr. Sowemimo’s patient support groups to be inspired by others and to share her insight.
“People who attend support groups lose more weight than those who don’t,” Dr. Sowemimo explains. “Long-term success requires more than just surgery. It’s truly a lifestyle change to continue to lose weight and maintain weight loss.”
Despite never running before, Barbara recently completed her first half-marathon and is training for the New York City Marathon.
“I went from sitting on the couch to training for a marathon,” she says with a laugh. “I started running about eight months after surgery and I’m hooked.”
Dr. Sowemimo applauds Barbara’s dedication.
“Surgery is not a quick fix or a magic bullet,” he says. “It’s a weight loss tool that should be paired with lifelong changes, especially regarding diet and exercise.”
“Having surgery is the best decision I ever made,” Barbara says. “Dr. Seun is so much more than a doctor in the OR; he’s very supportive and involved in every patient’s progress.”