Bariatric Surgery at University Hospitals Helps Patient Lead a Happier and More Energized Life

Julie Szitas pictured after her bariatric surgery
Julie Szitas after her bariatric surgery

After battling obesity nearly all of her life, Julie Szitas experienced a tragic and life-changing event at age 30, when her mother died of complications related to obesity and heart disease.

Heartbroken by the early loss, Julie also knew what was in store for her if she didn’t lose weight.

A longtime nurse, Julie decided it was time to explore weight loss surgery. But she had questions about what kind of surgery to have, where to have it, and who she could trust. The first hospital she contacted left her with the impression that she would be treated as a case, and not as an individual.

“It wasn’t personal,” she said. “It was a very sterile environment, very clinically driven and not very comfortable.”

Then she attended a University Hospitals information session led by Leena Khaitan, MD, Associate Surgical Director of University Hospitals Digestive Health Institute’s Nutritional Health & Bariatric Surgery Center. Julie immediately felt more welcome and more at ease. It was an overall warmer experience, she said.

“I just felt very safe with Dr. Khaitan and the UH team,” Julie said. “I didn’t feel that trust with anybody else.”

Help Before, During and After the Procedure

Julie researched her options, and was initially set on adjustable gastric banding . But after considering the information UH provided and discussing options with Dr. Khaitan, she chose to have Roux-en-Y gastric bypass instead.

“When I thought about my food addictions and my lifestyle, it was really the only choice,” she said. “I was a major sweets addict. I couldn't just have one. I would eat the whole box until I got physically sick. Roux-en-Y is a better fit for those issues.”

UH offered a great deal of preparation before surgery, including counseling, which Julie said helped set her up for success. Counseling is available after surgery as well, for as long as patients need it.

The surgery went smoothly when it took place on Sept. 24, 2009. Julie was only in the hospital two days, and the weight started coming off almost immediately. It did not stop coming off until she was 125 pounds lighter – and for the first time in her life, it stayed off.

“I feel like Dr. Khaitan saved my life,” Julie said. “She has devoted her life to helping obese people like me get healthy. The personal care at UH is amazing. I got to see it from both sides, as a patient and as a caregiver. I get to know our patients, and I call them on the weekend from my own home. That is the kind of care that is typical of UH.”

With Weight Under Control, Health Dramatically Improves

Julie Szitas pictured before her bariatric surgery
Julie Szitas before her bariatric surgery

Julie says her cravings for sweets have almost disappeared. “Any of the (weight loss surgery) procedures really diminish or completely take away the hunger drive,” she said. “Even two years later I rarely feel true hunger.”

Before surgery she suffered from venostasis, a condition in which excess weight in her abdomen compressed veins, causing slowed blood flow, swelling and pain in her lower extremities. She also suffered from borderline hypertension and polycystic ovary syndrome, which caused her to be infertile. When she lost the weight, all those issues went away.

“It’s crazy,” she said. “All my medical issues have been resolved. I don’t need any medications now. The only things I take are vitamins.”

Enjoying a Healthier, More Active Lifestyle After Weight Loss

Julie enjoys walking and swimming, and in the winter rides a recumbent bike. She gets up at 4:30 a.m. to exercise.

“The more you exercise, the more energy you have,” she said. “I used to think that vacations were a time for relaxing and being a couch potato. Now I think of them as a chance for an active adventure. I took my son to the waterpark and swam and rode a roller coaster and parasailed – it was great.”

For Julie, it feels like a second chance at life.

“It’s very freeing emotionally and physically,” she said. “I’m not afraid to go shopping or get on an airplane or walk into a room – no more thinking everybody is going to be looking at me. My relationship with my husband is strong and I am a better mother. I helped coach my son’s baseball team. I would never have done that before.”

When she looks at her son, she knows she has done the right thing.

“I didn't want him to have to go through what I went through with my mom,” she said. “What I did, it was for me and for my family. I am so passionate about this surgery and what it can do for people like me.”