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Briana and Brian's Story

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When you see Briana and Brian Hallisy today, it’s difficult to imagine this glowing, young, newlywed couple struggling with the challenges of severe obesity. But they did.

Both natives of the Cleveland area, Briana and Brian were married in October 2022. A licensed practical nurse for the University Hospitals Department of Dermatology, Briana loves animals, reading, watching documentaries, and cooking. Brian works as a phlebotomy and medical assisting instructor for New Bridge, a workforce development and social-emotional learning center in Cleveland. A movie buff and loving cat dad, Brian likes trivia, anime, gaming, and discovering new hobbies. Together, Briana and Brian enjoy traveling, watching Cavs games, binge-watching new shows and movies, and spending time at home with their cats.

When they met on Tinder just over four years ago, Briana weighed close to 300 pounds, and Brian weighed nearly 330 pounds. Not only were they fortunate enough to find a soulmate, Briana and Brian found the perfect pillar of support in one another as their separate weight loss journeys merged into a shared experience.

Taking That First Step

After making the mutual decision to pursue weight loss surgery, Briana and Brian met with Daanish Kazi, DO, a bariatric surgeon with University Hospitals Digestive Health Institute, in March 2021. Following initial consultation and evaluation, Dr. Kazi recommended gastric sleeve surgery for both Briana and Brian.

Also called sleeve gastrectomy, gastric sleeve surgery is a procedure in which the surgeon removes close to 80 percent of the patient’s stomach, reducing it to about the size and shape of a banana. The procedure is typically performed laparoscopically. In laparoscopic procedures, instead of making the 6- to 12-inch incision needed for traditional open abdominal surgery, the surgeon accesses the patient’s abdomen through two to four small incisions, each less than an inch in length. The surgeon is aided by a laparoscope: a thin, lighted tube fitted with a video camera that relays video images to a computer monitor. This minimally invasive approach allows for quicker post-surgical recovery when compared to traditional open surgery.

Following gastric sleeve surgery, a patient requires less food to make them feel full due to their smaller stomach. In addition, the person’s narrowed stomach produces less of the appetite-regulating hormone ghrelin, which helps to further curb the desire to eat.

Dr. Kazi says, “As a bariatric surgeon, my number one goal is to select and deliver the perfectly matched surgery for my patients. Today, we often find that gastric sleeve surgery is a great option for many patients due the procedure’s safety, simplicity, long-term effectiveness and affordability.”

Preparing for Bariatric Surgery

Once they committed to go forward with bariatric surgery, Briana and Brian fell under the expert care of Dr. Kazi and his multidisciplinary team.

“As the bariatric surgeon, I’m just one part of this solution,” says Dr. Kazi. “My patients also meet and work with a coordinator, a nutritionist, bariatric nurses and counselors as needed. These individuals each communicate different aspects of the weight loss surgery plan to the patient in order to ensure success.”

Dr. Kazi encouraged Briana and Brian to lose some weight prior to their surgery dates by having them begin to practice some of the lifestyle changes they’d need to make in order for their weight loss surgery to be successful in the long term. Toward that end, Briana and Brian took medically supervised weight loss classes during this preparatory time.

“Dr. Kazi and his team made sure we understood that weight loss surgery is not some sort of magic cure,” says Brian. “Even after you get surgery, you are the one who is responsible for losing weight and keeping it off through changes in what foods you eat, how much you eat and drink, and through exercise. When you commit to getting surgery, these changes start well before your operation.”

Though an insurance issue prevented Briana and Brian from getting their surgeries during the same week, they were able to have them scheduled only a month and half apart – Briana’s in August 2021 and Brian’s the following October. By the time their surgery dates arrived, Briana had lost 37 pounds and Brian had lost 33 pounds.

Life Immediately After Surgery

Neither Briana nor Brian experienced any complications during their procedures, and both were allowed to go home the next day. Since Briana had her procedure a few weeks ahead of Brian’s, Brian was able to watch and support Briana as she adopted the liquid and puréed food diets that are required in the period immediately following weight loss surgery.

Briana says, “Thanks to Dr. Kazi and his amazing team, I felt very prepared going home the day after my operation. I was confident that I would be able to take care of myself and make the changes I needed to make.”

The adjustments required to make weight loss surgery work aren’t always easy. Briana says, “When you’ve been eating a certain way your entire life and all of the sudden the portions and types of foods you eat change drastically, it’s a bit of a shock.”

Brian adds, “After having most of your stomach removed, you essentially have to relearn your body. Everything is new. You have to figure out what fills you up. You weigh your food and then learn to eye up appropriate portion sizes. You also change the size of your typical mouthful of food and learn just how much you can eat or drink before you begin to feel your new stomach stretch. On top of that, there’s normal post-surgical inflammation of the stomach to deal with during those first few weeks.”

The Results: A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

“In terms of decreased appetite and feeling fuller sooner – which are the goals of the surgery – I saw almost immediate results,” Briana says. “About three weeks after the operation, I started noticing changes in how I looked. And at one point, I realized going through this process is not always about the scale: it’s also about your measurements. There were times when I’d plateau or stall in my weight loss, but then I’d look in the mirror and think, ‘Wow, I lost some inches! This is really doing something!’ That is a great feeling.”

At her heaviest, Briana weighed 297 pounds. As of today, Briana weighs 165 pounds after losing 132 pounds.

“So far she’s beating me by one pound,” jokes Brian, who weighed 327 pounds when he started the prep diet for his surgery. Brian now weighs 196 pounds after losing 131 pounds.

Less Than One Percent

Despite an increasing abundance of stories like Briana and Brian’s, less than one percent of people who are eligible for bariatric surgery each year get the surgery.

Dr. Kazi says, “There are still social and institutional barriers to bariatric surgery that need to be fixed, including a failure of the public and many health care providers to recognize obesity as a chronic disease, a misconception that weight loss surgery is “an easy way out,” issues with insurance coverage, and limited availability of quality surgery centers throughout the country. As such, we must continue to educate the public and health care professionals about the chronic nature of obesity and the data-backed effectiveness of bariatric surgery.”

Brian adds, “I also think that many people who are eligible for weight loss surgery view it as too drastic a solution to their problem. They think dieting and going to the gym will be enough to achieve their weight loss goals, but the reality is that those measures by themselves fall short for many people struggling with obesity.”

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