Watch video: Journeys in bariatric surgery: Galo's story
Written by Stephanie M. McPherson | Photographed by Michael Neveux
Galo Franco’s back hurt. His knees hurt. His joints hurt. He was tired all the time.
“When I tried exercising, I injured and pulled muscles more frequently,” says Franco. “My body could not withstand the same type of aerobic intensity I was used to prior to my massive weight gain. Though I was so desperate to lose weight, I only ended up injuring myself and worsening my condition. I knew I needed help.”
Franco is one of a growing number of people struggling with obesity who chose to have weight-loss surgery. In 2017 an estimated 250,000 Americans had a variation of bariatric surgery—which includes gastric bypass, gastric sleeve or gastric band (otherwise known as lap band).
“His story is very common,” says Houman Solomon, MD, director of the Bariatric Wellness Clinic at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center Torrance and Franco’s doctor. When they first met, Franco weighed 260 pounds. “Here is a guy who works hard, works a lot. He’s trying really hard on his own to lose weight, and it has not been easy.”
Billions of people around the world are considered overweight (BMI above 25) or obese (BMI above 30). For many people these conditions are accompanied by a host of other problems, including high cholesterol, heart disease and metabolic problems such as type 2 diabetes. While lifestyle modifications can address the issue for some, many—like Franco—don’t see results on their own and turn to a medical intervention.
Providence Little Company of Mary Torrance’s Bariatric Wellness Clinic opened its doors in spring of 2017. The clinic offers weight loss surgery as a complement to lifestyle management.
“We treat the whole spectrum of obesity with more than just surgery, in a very high-quality program,” says Dr. Solomon. “Patients feel better, a lot of their medical issues get resolved very quickly and often permanently.”
After researching his options, Franco was happy to choose the Bariatric Wellness Clinic and Dr. Solomon.
“My wife and I have been patients of Little Company of Mary for several years,” says Franco. “Our son was also born there, and we have always enjoyed top-notch care from the entire medical staff.”
As part of preparation for the surgery, Franco met with a nutritionist to determine the diets that would work best for him after his operation. He also learned about which exercises would help get him back into healthy physical condition, did some research on his own about side effects—the good and the bad—and read plenty of patient stories to understand what he could expect.
The Bariatric Wellness Center requires all patients to undergo medical tests (such as X-rays, lab work and electrocardiogram to check the heart) to confirm they are healthy enough for surgery. The Center also has patients meet with psychologists to ensure they have strong social support systems and stress management techniques in place.
“We assess their medical needs and identify their struggles with weight loss in the past so that we can customize a surgical plan for them,” explains Dr. Solomon. “For example somebody who’s very young, who can exercise well, [who can lose weight well] when they diet but has a hard time sticking to it—that’s a different story than somebody who has limited exercise capacity and significant vulnerabilities. Their needs are different than just controlling portions.”
During these consultations the Center determines which type of surgery would most effectively treat a patient’s medical issues.
There are three types of bariatric surgery offered at the Bariatric Wellness Center (the Lap Band, gastric bypass and gastric sleeve), and all three of them work by shrinking the size of the stomach, thereby reducing the amount of food able to be consumed. In addition, gastric bypass and gastric sleeve both increase the metabolic rate, which makes these operations the best choices for people with problems such as diabetes. Gastric bypass is the only one which also creates a condition of malabsorption, meaning the body will not absorb all of the calories consumed. It works by changing the route your food takes through your intestines, therefore bypassing certain areas involved with calorie absorption.
The ease and safety of bariatric surgery has improved significantly since it was first introduced in the mid-1990s. The average length of a hospital stay at the Bariatric Wellness Program is just 22 hours—a testament to the program’s streamlined and quality-driven infrastructure. The procedure is safer than hip or gallbladder surgery, and the benefits are manifold, says Dr. Solomon. Eighty to 90% of all obesity-related problems resolve after surgeries, and it is considered to be the most effective method for sustained weight loss. Gastric bypass, in particular, has proven to be a remarkably effective treatment for diabetes as well.
In August of 2017, Franco made the decision to have weight loss surgery and received a gastric bypass, a decision that has changed the course of his life forever. He lost more than 80 pounds, which he attributes to both the surgery and to a concentrated effort toward a lifestyle change that his medical care team helped him to develop.
The dramatic weight loss has resulted in a marked improvement in the quality of his life.
“I sleep much better. Weight loss has considerably lessened my sleep apnea. I don’t fatigue. I’m able to play with my son at the park,” he says. “Surgery has boosted my energy and self-confidence.”
Franco is no longer in pain every day and is pleased he can safely exercise without threat of injury. “I was able to slowly get into an exercise routine. Over time exercising became more and more enjoyable and invigorating. It is now a part of my life. Last year I ran my first 10K in 10 years! I was able to run with my 7-year-old son. Now my son and I often go running together by the beach.”
Galo Franco turned to Providence Little Company of Mary’s Bariatric Wellness Center to get the help he needed. Today he runs races, sleeps better and feels better than ever.
He attributes his initial weight gain to anxiety, to long working hours that required a lot of travel, and “an overall lack of insight and education in nutrition.” Franco adds, “I was very active as a child and adult in sports, while also battling weight increase issues. After having been educated in overall nutrition as required by the bariatric surgery process, I have learned how to better watch my diet as well as the importance of exercising different parts of the body.” Now he lifts weights in addition to cardio, as an integral part of his overall exercise routine.
And the benefits to Franco will extend far into the future. “We believe that weight loss surgery with good results adds at least a decade to a person’s life,” says Dr. Solomon. “So he’s really done himself a favor.”
When asked what he would tell someone who is considering getting bariatric surgery, Franco says, “I have no regrets whatsoever. I wish I had done it earlier!”
For more information about our bariatric surgery or our Bariatric Wellness Center, please visit https://www.providence.org/services/bariatrics.