Press Releases & Announcements

Bethel Couple Look Forward to a Healthy Family Lifestyle after Weight Loss Surgery at Danbury Hospital

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 - Danbury, CT

Couple completes Weight Loss Surgery at Danbury Hospital

Keith Zuccala, M.D.
Interim Co-Chair, Department of Surgery
Find a Doctor Profile 

Laura Choi, M.D.
Medical Director, Center for Weight Loss Surgery
Find a Doctor Profile 

In January 2010, Karen Neville, age 37, a self-proclaimed overachiever, had two separate surgical procedures during one operation, a Heller myotomy and gastric bypass, also known as bariatric surgery. Karen and her husband, Chris, who also had bariatric surgery ten months ago, are now anxiously awaiting the birth of twin girls due to arrive in late August.

A music teacher and choral director at Bethel High School for the past 12 years, Karen struggled with her weight all her life. “I tried Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, and so many others, but my weight just bounced back and forth; nothing really worked to keep it off, said Karen.”

At 279 pounds, Karen developed difficulty swallowing and keeping food in her stomach. After seeing a gastroenterologist, she was referred to Keith Zuccala, M.D., Interim Co-Chair, Danbury Hospital Department of Surgery, who made the medical dual diagnosis of gastroparesis and achalasia.

“Gastroparesis affect muscles in the stomach that are not functioning properly, said Dr. Zuccala. “And, in some cases, they may not work at all which prevents the stomach from emptying properly interfering with digestion.” Dr. Zuccala said “achalasa is a rare disorder that makes it hard for food and/or liquid to pass into the stomach because of nerve damage that doesn’t allow the muscular valve between the esophagus and stomach to fully relax.”

In order to effectively treat her gastroparesis and achalasia, Dr. Zuccala recommended a minimally-invasive surgical procedure called a Heller myotomy. He also recommended that Karen consider having gastric bypass surgery. “The Heller myotomy would correct Karen’s gastroparesis and achalasa, while gastric bypass surgery would help Karen achieve long-term health and well-being,” said Dr. Zuccala.

According to Dr. Zuccala, a Heller myotomy is a minimally-invasive laparoscopic technique where outside muscle layers in the lower esophagus that extend into the stomach are cut in to because they squeeze shut not allowing food and liquid to enter the stomach.

A report by the American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery suggests that gastric bypass surgery is a very common weight loss surgery procedure and is considered the gold standard in weight loss surgery. The minimally-invasive surgery uses thin instruments and a few small key-hole incisions to shrink the size of the stomach which restricts the amount of food intake.

“When Dr. Zuccala completed the Heller myotomy, it was my turn to perform Karen’s gastric bypass,” said Laura Choi, M.D., Medical Director, Center for Weight Loss Surgery and Fred and Irmi Bering Chair in Laparoscopic Surgery. “During the minimally-invasive surgery, I attached a portion of her small intestine to the small stomach pouch allowing food to ‘bypass’ a significant part of the small intestine so fewer calories can be absorbed.” “Since then, Karen’s weight loss was achieved by both eating less and absorbing fewer calories,” added Dr. Choi.

At 367 pounds, forty-year old Chris Neville decided it was time for him to make a lifestyle change when he kept feeling out of breath after walking up two flights of stairs. A graphic designer at Minuteman Press in Danbury, he fondly recalls how good he felt during his youth and in high school when he played baseball, football and softball. “I missed being active and I was fed up feeling humiliated and finding bruises on my hips from trying to squeeze into booths at places like restaurants and movie theaters,” said Chris.

Eager to make lasting changes, Karen and Chris conducted extensive research on before deciding to attend a Meet & Greet session at the Center for Weight Loss Surgery at Danbury Hospital. “We were not only impressed with the clarity of information provided by Dr. Choi, but also with the sensitivity and full continuum of care that would be provided before, during and after weight loss surgery,” said Karen.

Having made up his mind, Chris had gastric bypass surgery at Danbury Hospital on August 2, 2011. “In the ten months since my surgery, I’ve lost 140 pounds,” said Chris. The decision to have gastric bypass surgery wasn’t an easy one,” said Chris. “You have to have trust in the program and the expertise of the doctors and specialists,” added Chris. “You also need a strong support network, and that was my wife. Karen’s my best friend and was ‘my rock’ through the whole thing.”

“Weight loss surgery changed my life,” said Karen. “I’m living proof,” added Karen. “I don’t like pushing my beliefs onto others, but I just have to say go and see for yourself; attend one of the free weight loss surgery Meet & Greet sessions at Danbury Hospital, and don’t make assumptions or judgments until you learn about it yourself,” said Karen.

Having turned 40 this year, Chris says “the weight loss surgery was a good birthday present to me.” “If you keep committed and follow the rules, it’s a life-changing, wonderful experience.”

As for Karen, her one year weight loss goal was 150 pounds from the 279 pounds she weighed prior to surgery. Although she didn’t quite reach that goal, she was only twenty pound shy of reaching it weighing in at 170.

Bantering with his wife who is now seven months pregnant with twins, Chris teasingly retorts “now my wife’s getting bigger!” Karen quickly replied “I am ready and up for the challenge because I’ll be working out with a weight trainer after the babies are born.” “I’m so glad we have religiously incorporated regular physical fitness into our everyday lives,” said Karen. “We are so thankful to Dr. Choi, she’s a rock star!” “Now, all we need is for everyone to pray for us … with two babies on the way, three cats, and two adults living in a one bedroom condo, we’re going to need all the help we can get,” said Karen.

The Center for Weight Loss Surgery at Danbury Hospital was recently re-accredited as a Level 1A Center of Excellence facility by the Bariatric Surgery Center Network (BSCN) Accreditation Program of the American College of Surgeons (ACS).

About Western Connecticut Health Network

Western Connecticut Health Network is the region’s premiere, patient-centered health care organization serving residents of Western Connecticut and adjacent New York. The organization is anchored by two nationally recognized hospitals, Danbury Hospital and New Milford Hospital, as well as their affiliated organizations. In addition to the two hospitals, the continuum of care offered includes the following affiliates:

Western Connecticut Health Network has centers of excellence in women’s health, cardiovascular and cancer services; minimally invasive and joint and spine surgery; digestive disorders and radiology and diagnostic imaging. It also offers specialized programs for neonatology with a Level IIIb neonatal intensive care unit and accredited sleep disorder centers. Both hospitals also maintain active clinical research programs, offering clinical trials for patients with cancer and other health concerns.

For more information, visit,; and share your comments with us  or