Transforming Lives with Surgery and Behavioral Changes
Keith Zuccala M.D.
Section Chief, General Surgery
Harold and Myra Spratt Chair in Minimally Invasive Surgery
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Keith Zuccala, MD, of the Center for Weight Loss Surgery at Danbury Hospital calls gastric bypass surgery a “health-gaining” procedure because so many patients who undergo bariatric surgery are cured of debilitating chronic conditions.
But for Stephen Jordan and Violetta Porrazzo – who have lost more than 300 pounds thanks to a combination of surgery, healthy eating and physical activity – gastric bypass surgery has been a “life saving” procedure that has transformed their lives.
“Here are two individuals who have used gastric bypass surgery as a tool to lead healthier and happier lives,” said Dr. Zuccala, a bariatric surgeon and director of Laparoscopic Surgery at Danbury Hospital. “These patients have embraced the behavioral changes needed to succeed. Their stories are an inspiration to all and a reminder that it’s never too late to take charge of your health.”
Danbury Hospital’s Center for Weight Loss Surgery includes a multidisciplinary team that brings together the talents of medical specialists, bariatric surgeons, nurses, dietitians, exercise physiologists and others to provide ongoing support and expertise. The Center, which has earned the top “1A” accreditation by the American College of Surgeons Bariatric Surgery Center Network, has a track record for quality and safety.
Walking down the path of destruction
At 425 pounds, Jordan of Danbury was a borderline diabetic burdened with high blood pressure, sleep apnea and depression. He couldn’t climb a flight of stairs or stroll through Danbury Fair Mall without getting winded. He was embarrassed to go out with his wife.
But it took a chilling comment from his spouse for Jordan to change his life. “You’ll never see your grandchildren if you continue down this road,” she said. “That’s when I realized I needed help,” said Jordan, who has two sons and eight grandchildren.
Taking charge of his health
Today, Jordan sports a trim 190-pound frame as a result of gastric bypass surgery and behavioral changes that include making healthy food choices and exercising daily.
“I’ve lost more weight – 225 pounds, to be exact - than I actually weigh right now,” said a jubilant Jordan, who is training to run his first marathon in more than three decades. He no longer takes any medication and all signs of diabetes have disappeared.
“The bariatric team at Danbury Hospital saved by life,” said Jordan. “I just turned 63. But I feel like I did when I was 23!”
Life as a moving picture
For Jordan, bariatric surgery was the first step in what he views as a lifelong emotional and physical commitment to lead a healthier and happier life. Danbury Hospital’s multidisciplinary team of surgeons, nurses, dieticians, medical specialists, psychiatrists, social workers, case managers and others provided practical and emotional support before, during and after the procedure, he said.
“You can’t undergo bariatric surgery and then go back to your old ways,” said Jordan. “I know it’s an ongoing process for the rest of my life. I think of the experience as a moving picture, rather than a snap shot. It’s as much a mental thing as it is physical.”
Although he’s “delighted” to hear about the dramatic weight loss, Dr. Zuccala said he’s most impressed with the health benefits Jordan has experienced since surgery. “I enjoy learning that patients no longer need medication to control their diabetes or high blood pressure following this life-saving surgery. That’s what gets me excited as a surgeon.”
Loving the person within you
Porrazzo of Mahopac, NY, credits a combination of conventional and alternative medicine – gastric bypass surgery along with the healing power of meditation, guided imagery and other techniques – for putting her on a path toward health and wellness.
“You don’t think of yourself as being heavy, especially if you are happy with the person you are inside,” she said. But when a friend suggested she attend a seminar to learn more about bariatric surgery, she had to admit her weight had become a serious health issue.
Now Porrazzo is happy with the person she’s inside and the person’s she has become outside after losing 90 pounds following gastric bypass surgery. The Danbury resident has “boundless energy” whether she’s hiking Beacon Mountain with friends, walking the bike trail, swimming or playing with her two-year-old granddaughter.
“This has been a real health and spiritual journey for me,” said Porrazzo, who no longer needs blood pressure medication. “I’m a totally different person than who I was a year-and-a-half ago. I don’t even know that other person anymore.”
The healing powers of meditation and Reiki
Porrazzo attributes her success to the “warm and fantastic team” at Danbury Hospital along with the healing powers of meditation and Reiki. Reiki is a relaxation technique based on the premise that an unseen life force or energy flows through the body.
“Alternative medicine can work great in conjunction with traditional medicine,” said Porrazzo, a Reiki practitioner who has been meditating for years. “I believe our body is a vessel that holds our spiritual energy and this energy draws on a main source of energy that some may consider God, the universe or other ame,” she explained. “You can live you life with negative energy or you can surround yourself with positive energy.”
Images of the Jersey shore enhance healing
For Porrazzo images of the Jersey Shore – which she visited four days before surgery –provided positive energy. “I sat by the ocean in the early morning and late afternoon. I closed my eyes, slowed my breathing and imagined myself at the time of surgery, the surgery going well, the healing going rapidly,” said Porrazzo, who was back to work two weeks after surgery.
Meditation and deep breathing techniques also helped her to manage “mild discomfort” without pain medication, stick to the strict liquid regimen following surgery, and resist temptation to eat unhealthy foods. “Meditation helped me realize that I was just at one plateau of many that I needed to reach in order to get healthy,” she said.
Dr. Zuccala recognizes the benefit of meditation in Porrazzo’s case. “Instead of struggling and thinking about food,” he said, “Violetta is able to channel her mental thoughts and energy into meditation which frees her from the destructive eating behavior. She is taking care of both her physical and mental health.”
While Porrazzo encourages others to consider bariatric surgery, she’s the first to admit it’s not easy. “You need to commit yourself physically and emotionally to changing your life,” she said. “The positive impact will be tremendous if you can make that commitment.”
Ongoing support for continued success
As part of the program, Dr. Zuccala will continue to see both Jordan and Porrazzo at Danbury Hospital’s Center for Weight Loss Surgery for annual check-ups. The team is also available to answer questions by telephone or in person whenever the need arises. “We here to support and assist patients every step of the way,” he said.
About Western Connecticut Health Network
Western Connecticut Health Network is a patient-centered health care organization established in 2010 by two nationally recognized hospitals, Danbury Hospital, New Milford Hospital and their affiliated organizations, to provide the highest level of care to patients throughout Western Connecticut and adjacent New York. In addition to the two hospitals, other network affiliates include:
• an integrated physician practice with primary and specialty care expertise
• an agency for home care and community health services
• a full-service retail pharmacy located at Danbury Hospital
• emergency medical services
• an occupational wellness and medicine program, providing services for business and industry
Western Connecticut Health Network has centers of excellence in Women’s, neonatal, cardiovascular and cancer services; weight loss and orthopedic surgery; digestive disorders and radiology and diagnostic imaging. It also offers specialized programs for sleep disorders and asthma management. Both hospitals also maintain active clinical research programs, offering clinical trials for patients with cancer and other health concerns. For more information, visit www.WesternConnecticutHealthNetwork.org
About Danbury Hospital
Danbury Hospital is a 371-bed regional medical center and university teaching hospital associated with the University of Vermont College of Medicine, the Yale University School of Medicine, the Connecticut School of Medicine and Columbia University Medical Center. The hospital is nationally recognized as a tertiary health care center with an innovative high-tech, high-touch environment and is also a member of the Planetree organization. In addition to offering the latest robotic and minimally invasive surgical and imaging technology, it was the first hospital in Connecticut to adopt electronic health records systems. It offers a Level II Trauma Center and Level IIIb Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Medical staff members are board-certified in their specialties, and most serve as faculty members of the nation’s finest university medical centers offering a higher level of experience. For more information, visit DanburyHospital.org and share your comments with us at Facebook.com/DanburyHospital.
About New Milford Hospital
New Milford Hospital is a Planetree organization dedicated to patient-centered care that nurtures every patient's body, mind and spirit. The Hospital has an extraordinary tradition of warm and caring personal attention backed by top-notch physicians, world-class technology and the newest, most advanced diagnostic and treatment options available. Your healthcare team of highly trained physicians, nurses, technicians and administrators is determined and committed to improving the health and quality of life of those we serve. For more information, visit NewMilfordHospital.org and share your comments with us facebook.com/NewMilfordHospital.