June 28, 2024

Bariatric surgery patient travels bumpy road to healthier life

Kate Leissler does not give up easily.

The 43-year-old mother of two teenage boys and Registered Municipal Clerk for the Borough of Branchville, New Jersey, has seen her share of setbacks during her quest to live a healthier life.

“Eleven years ago, I woke up and decided I was done making excuses for my weight,” Leissler said. “At the time I weighed 340 pounds. But from that day forward, I worked hard, followed the Weight Watchers plan, and lost 150 pounds.” Leissler was even highlighted in the national Weight Watchers magazine for her successful weight loss.

A person wearing a black shirtDescription automatically generatedBut life goes on and old habits can resurface, especially when dealing with the COVID pandemic and some personal setbacks.

“When the pandemic hit, I got out of the routine of exercising,” she recalled. “I also started eating unhealthy foods again, which shot my weight back up to 260. On top of that, my back hurt and I had joint pain with the extra weight, so I just wasn’t feeling good physically.”

Leissler said she was also feeling the stress of working full-time and raising a family, but the biggest challenge was internal.

“The mental stress was more difficult than the physical pain,” she said. “I was so excited when I lost 150 pounds on Weight Watchers, but then so disappointed in myself when I gained it all back. I was always tired by the afternoon and had no energy to exercise. That’s when I looked again at bariatric surgery at Hackensack Meridian Pascack Valley Medical Center.”

Leissler connected with Sara Wong, M.D., who specializes in bariatric surgery, and met with her to discuss the surgery.

“She sat down with me and reviewed the steps for pre-qualification for the surgery,” said Leissler. “She and her team prepared me for what would happen during the surgery and the changes I would have to make to my diet and activities afterward.”

After listening to all the information, Leissler agreed to the plan and scheduled surgery eight weeks later in the middle of November, unaware of another major life change around the corner.

“My husband died suddenly that October,” she recalled. “We’d been a couple since I was 16, so it was a devastating, horrible situation. When I told Dr. Wong about him, I saw the devastation in her eyes because she knew him. Much later after the surgery, I heard that she spoke to the anesthesiologist beforehand and said something like, ‘We’ve got to make sure that this mom wakes up and is okay because there are kids at home who will need her.’”

A diagram of a stomachDescription automatically generatedGastric Sleeve Surgery

Leissler’s gastric sleeve surgery involved the removal of a large portion of her stomach. It kept the stomach the same length but with a much slimmer width, like a shirt sleeve. No changes were made to her intestines.

Bariatric surgery at Hackensack Meridian Pascack Valley Medical Center is performed with minimally invasive techniques. That means small instruments are used through small incisions and a camera for visualization. This leads to less pain, shorter recovery and better outcomes for patients.

With a sleeve gastrectomy, approximately 80% of the volume of the stomach is removed. After surgery, patients eat much smaller meals and tend to have fewer cravings and hunger than they did before surgery. This is because most of our 'hunger hormone' is created in the portion of the stomach that is removed. Removal of that part of the stomach results in much less 'hunger hormone' produced.

Leissler’s surgery went very well with no complications or surprises. “Even though the hospital is 90 minutes from my home, I was willing to make the trip because the team was a compassionate, caring group of people from start to finish.”

Healthy Mindset

After the surgery, Leissler followed the dietary plan of starting on a full-liquid diet for the first two weeks, which coincided with Thanksgiving. “That was an interesting challenge for sure,” she laughed.

Dr. Wong’s office gave her other tips on eating well. “Eating slowly is essential,” said Leissler, “because you can't fathom how truly small your stomach is after surgery. You can quickly overeat and overfill your stomach, which causes extreme discomfort. The best tip I got was to pre-measure the food so I know that my new stomach can handle it.”

Leissler enjoys gardening and growing vegetables, so her new diet aligns well with her hobby. She also values the nutritional information she received from Dr. Wong’s office.

“In all the plans, eating too many carbs is never a good thing. You need to focus on proteins and avoid excess sugar in your diet. If you don’t eat many carbohydrates, you won’t have to burn them off with activities. If you don’t burn them off, they turn into fat and you’re back on an unhealthy cycle.”

A person wearing a black hat and leather jacketDescription automatically generatedTo increase her activities, Leissler started walking again and lifting basic weights. “I walk a lot and lift weights. This routine worked for me when I lost weight years ago and still works for me. I work outside a lot, so I am always moving to get some extra steps. Sometimes I will send documents to a printer in another office because it makes me get up and walk further.”

She also learned a tip from her maternal grandmother that has stayed with her all these years.

“She would park at the far end of a parking lot so that she had farther to walk,” she recalled. “I used to think, ‘This is so weird, why are we doing this?’ Now when I go shopping or I am dropping the boys off at practice, I do the same thing.”

Leissler’s healthy diet and increased activity have helped her lower her weight to 209, with a goal of more weight loss. She attributes her success to her stubborn determination and the guidance of Dr. Wong and her team.

“They're caring, compassionate people and only a phone call away,” added Leissler. With everything I’ve been through, Dr. Wong has become a good friend. She went above and beyond with me, which I'm sure she does with every patient. Her support just made me feel at ease about everything.”

Hackensack Meridian Pascack Valley Medical Center has received the Healthgrades Bariatric Surgery Excellence Award™ along with a five-star rating in Overall Bariatric Surgery, the only hospital in Bergen County to receive this recognition. The hospital is ranked by Healthgrades as among the top 10% for bariatric surgery.

To learn more about weight loss surgery at Pascack Valley Medical Center, visit our web page.

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