ABOUT THE PROGRAM
The Surgical Weight Loss program at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center offers comprehensive weight management services, including nutritional counseling, medical evaluation, psychiatric evaluation and weight-loss surgery for patients with clinically severe obesity.
MEET KATIE RODRIGUEZ
Lives in: Lebanon
Family: Three children
Heaviest weight: 423 pounds
Current weight: 169 pounds
Quotable: I love myself. I didn’t always feel that way.
Penn State Surgical Weight Loss Team Helps Mother of Three Transform Her Life
When Katie Rodriguez of Lebanon took her children to a restaurant, they’d beg to sit in a booth. But Rodriguez, who at her heaviest weighed 423 pounds, couldn’t.
“My belly stuck out too far,” 37-year-old Rodriguez said. “We always had to sit at a table.”
Rodriguez not only battled an expanding waistline but also depression. She learned she had degenerative cervical spinal stenosis and had to go on disability.
“I was always an outgoing person, but I didn’t want to do anything but lie around and eat,” she said.
Today, Rodriguez weighs 169 pounds. She can sit in a booth at a restaurant and shop without using an electric scooter. She cherishes “the little things,” such as being able to wear fashion boots and spending time outside with her children and fiancé.
“I went from a size 32 to a size 12,” she said. “I feel more alive. I have more energy. I’m not ashamed to put on a bathing suit and take my kids to the pool. I love myself. I didn’t always feel that way.”
Rodriguez credits Dr. Ann Rogers, director of the Surgical Weight Loss program at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, for her transformation. Rogers performed Duodenal Switch Bariatric Surgery on Rodriguez four years ago.
“I gave her a tool to be able to make the changes,” Rogers said. “Katie is the one whose lifestyle had to change to make it work.”
The procedure, a combination of the gastric bypass and vertical sleeve gastrectomy, is reserved for severely obese patients, Rogers said.
“I could tell by talking to Katie and by her adherence to the dieticians’ instructions that she was a good candidate,” Rogers said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hispanics have a 50 percent higher death rate from diabetes than whites and 23 percent more obesity.
“Certain populations are more prone to obesity and obesity-related problems.” Rogers said. “Part of it is genetics.”
The average bariatric patient can expect to lose one-third of their weight, Rogers said.
“People are not coming to us because they want to look like Twiggy,” Rogers said. “They are coming to us because they want to be healthy and have a normal lifespan.”
Besides weight loss, many bariatric patients see improvement with weight-related problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol and joint pain, Rogers said. There is also an economic benefit.
“Bariatric surgery has been shown to pay for itself in two years,” Rogers said. “And it’s actually safer than gall bladder or hernia surgery.”
Rodriguez is proud of what she has accomplished, but more importantly she’s thankful for what she has been able to teach her children.
“I’ve been able to show my kids that if you’re determined to be a better person, all you have to do is set your mind to it, and you can achieve it.”
Dr. Rogers recently celebrated a victory of her own. After years of advocacy, Pennsylvania state employees who have a BMI of 40 or more and diabetes were able to get weight loss surgeries covered by their health insurance beginning Jan. 1, 2018.
“This was a huge victory,” Rogers said. “The cost of treating obesity is higher than the cost of treating smoking-related illnesses.”
Another huge victory is the start of a new comprehensive program at Penn State Health St. Joseph Medical Center in Reading. “The goal is to expand access to patients in the Berks region and help them manage their obesity,” said Dr. Allison Barrett, director of bariatric surgery at St. Joseph Medical Center.
Like many doctors, Barrett operates with the use of robotics. “For the patient, it means fewer or smaller incisions. For me as a surgeon, it provides an excellent visual in the operating room and additional mobility of the instruments I use.”
Barrett said that more and more doctors are using weight-loss surgery as a bridge to other medical treatment that patients might not be allowed to get because their BMI is too high.
“We often recommend that patients undergo weight-loss surgery before having certain procedures, such as a joint replacement or hernia operation,” she said.
“It’s an incredibly rewarding experience to help people make a real change in their lives.”