Wedded to Success

Ailene and Adam Zaebst at their ceremony

Bride commits to a new life after bariatric weight-loss surgery, dropping 140 pounds

Ailene Zaebst walked down the aisle at her wedding more than 140 pounds lighter from bariatric surgery, completing a weight-loss journey that began 18 months earlier at University Hospitals Parma Medical Center.

Her beloved, Adam, waited for her at the altar. But her unseen partners in this journey were an entire team of specialists at UH Parma, supporting her in positive changes to last a lifetime.

Ailene and Adam Zaebst at their reception

Initially, Ailene was inspired by her Aunt Patty, who had pledged to lose 50 pounds before her 50th birthday and ultimately dropped more than 150 pounds. Losing 30 pounds before her 30th birthday should be quite achievable, she figured.

Ailene met with Dietitian Dina Corrao, who put her on a 1,500 calorie-per-day diet and urged her to ramp up her exercise. She lost 40 pounds before she underwent surgery in September 2019 – and she's lost 100 pounds more since. The pre-surgery routines have been critical in ensuring long-term life changes.

“Ailene has been a true example of success,” says Anna Hazinakis, BS, RN, CBN, the clinical coordinator and assistant nurse manager of the Nutritional Health & Bariatric Surgery Center at UH Parma, who has been recognized as a Distinguished Bariatric Nurse by the American Society for Bariatric and Metabolic Surgery, which accredits the program. “Ailene committed from day one to this journey and has been an inspiration to many around her.”

Finally taking care of herself

Ailene, a clinical nurse partner in a physician practice, spends her days caring for the needs of patients. After suffering the loss of a baby niece who was born with a genetic disease, Ailene was depressed and turned to comfort food and a full work schedule for solace. She gained 50 pounds in six months and realized her weight was getting out of control. She weighed 360 pounds when she came to her first appointment at the Bariatric Center.

“I needed permanent tools that would hold me accountable,” said Ailene, whose previous weight loss efforts had failed. “I want to live a really, really long life, and enjoy my life. I knew something had to give.”

Mujjahid Abbas, MD, a surgeon at UH Parma who specializes in bariatric surgery, told Ailene for all the energy and time she gives to her patients and loved ones, she needed to finally take care of herself. Through careful consultation with the team, Ailene chose a sleeve gastrectomy, in which two-thirds of the stomach is removed laparoscopically or robotically, leaving a stomach the size of banana. This surgery is less complex than gastric bypass, in which the intestines are rerouted.

Six months later, a few months before that milestone birthday, Ailene checked in to UH Parma for the minimally invasive procedure. She spent one night in the hospital and then a few weeks recovering at home. She had the steady support of a large family, longtime friends and her UH Parma team.

The success triangle

Three months after recovering from surgery, Ailene was engaged to her boyfriend of three years. Shopping for her wedding dress, after slimming down from a size 26 to a 16, was fun. Going out to dinner was more enjoyable when she didn't have to worry about squeezing into a cozy booth. “Those little things have been huge,” she says.

Recently, the couple were married in an intimate outdoor ceremony in the public square in Medina. A few of her childhood friends, who have stood by her since her first struggles with weight in adolescence, flanked her in the small wedding party to celebrate her truly new life.

Inspired by her father, a runner for the past three decades, Ailene started running in the past year and met her goal of finishing a 5k in under 30 minutes. She is now training for her first half-marathon.

Ailene Zaebst and her niece

Her family, including a new niece whose Spring 2019 birth prompted that first appointment at UH Parma, have motivated her along the way to keep going. Ailene is intent on watching Grace grow up and being an active aunt who can run and play. She also wants to put herself in the best position to avoid the heart disease that forced her grandparents to undergo surgery.

“This surgery was the tool I needed to believe that I could change my life and get healthy,” says Ailene. “I am so grateful to Dr. Abbas, Anna, Dina, Chanel, Laurie and the entire UH Bariatrics team for the life-saving gift they gave me and the support to believe that I could do this!”

Anna believes Ailene has balanced this phase of her new life well with the tools provided by the Bariatric Center.

“Through her new lifestyle and weight loss, she exudes confidence and is able to better care for her patients and counsel them with proper nutrition and encourage them to a healthier lifestyle,” Anna says.

Surgery, diet compliance and exercise are three equal sides of the success triangle, Dr. Abbas tells his patients.

“All sides of this triangle are equally important in long-term success,” Dr. Abbas says. “We are proud of her success. Her self-discipline and personal effort – along with surgery, diet compliance and exercise – all go hand-in-hand with her success story.”