The right place, the right time
Photographed by Kremer Johnson Photography
When Erika Brown attended a free information session at the Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center Torrance Bariatric Wellness Center, she was ready to do whatever was necessary to lose weight. She just needed to find the right people to help her.
Listening to the presentation by Houman Solomon, MD, director of metabolic and bariatric surgery at the center, Brown, 34, felt confident she had found someone who could assist her in losing weight safely and effectively.
“It took me a month to get the courage to call and schedule that initial appointment,” says Brown, a social worker for the city of Los Angeles and a financial professional. “But Dr. Solomon’s manner is matter-of- fact, very honest and real. I appreciated that.”
In November of 2018, Brown underwent gastric bypass surgery, which alters the stomach and small intestine so that food intake is restricted, and food is absorbed and digested differently, and started a new life as a healthier person. The Bariatric Wellness Center was founded to create the best possible chance of success for each individual patient, Dr. Solomon says.
The center is accredited by the Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Accreditation and Quality Improvement Program (MBSAQIP), a joint program of the American College of Surgeons and the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. The accreditation ensures that patients receive multidisciplinary medical care as well as preoperative and postoperative care, which improves patient outcomes and long-term success.
“We encourage everyone to do their research before they come to us,” Dr. Solomon says. “What we recommend is people pay attention to accreditation. Our program is a nationally recognized program. It’s a center of excellence for weight-loss surgery. Not every program out there has a center of excellence. It’s not an easy accomplishment.”
Brown credits the comprehensive program for her success. The Gardena native, who is 5 foot 1, became overweight after finishing school. She hired a personal trainer and reduced from 200 pounds to 170. But she stopped training because of the costs and eventually reached 235 pounds.
“Once I stopped training, the desire to go to the gym just wasn’t there,” she says. “I had no motivation to keep going. I tried crash diets, a rice diet, cleansing, but it was always temporary.”
Before her surgery, Brown participated in the center’s six-month program, which included consultations with a nutritionist and a psychologist as well as counseling and weigh-ins with a nurse practitioner. The presurgical program led to a 30-pound weight loss.
“The six months provided education, and it jump- started my weight-loss journey,” Brown says. “I got into very good habits. It helped get me used to the idea of ‘I’m not going to be able to do the things I used to do.’ This is a lifestyle change. Every day is a choice: Eat this or don’t. Work out or don’t. It requires choices every day.”
The Bariatric Wellness Center staff works hard to match each patient to the most appropriate treatment and then supports them over the long term, Dr. Solomon says.
“Erika has done well from a weight-loss standpoint, and, more important, she has embraced the teachings and the lifestyle that we try to put together for these patients,” he says. “Surgery is just one part of this big puzzle. It helps them stay focused and on track.”
The center offers both surgical and nonsurgical weight-loss programs. Not everyone should have surgery, Dr. Solomon says. The best candidates are people who have tried for some time to lose weight but cannot maintain a lower weight. The center offers several types of nonsurgical programs depending on what the patient needs and desires. The programs can involve close physician supervision, special food products and coaching.
Surgical options include traditional gastric bypass and the gastric sleeve procedure, which involves reducing the size of the stomach to restrict food intake.
“We try to customize a journey for each patient,” he says.
The benefits of weight loss and sustained maintenance of that loss are many, Dr. Solomon says. He frequently witnesses obesity-related health problems improve as patients lose weight. These conditions include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, pre-diabetes and diabetes.
“Obesity often leads to cardiac disease, and we’ve identified 13 different cancers linked to obesity,” he says. “There is not one organ system in the body that is not affected by it. Any way you look at it, it behooves us to address obesity.”
Erika Brown is now celebrating having normal cholesterol levels for the first time since adolescence. She no longer fears developing the diabetes that runs in her family. She has lost 73 pounds and aims to lose 25 more. She participates in Zumba class three or four times a week on Zoom and does weight training.
“It’s been a complete 180 change for me,” she says. “I feel like myself again appearance-wise. I can cross my legs or wear high heels. I’m not huffing and puffing going up or down stairs.”
She credits the support she received from Dr. Solomon and the team at the Bariatric Wellness Center. But, she says, the decision started with her and her choice to seek help at the center.
“People have to want it for the right reasons,” she says. “You have to want to be a healthier person. I wanted to be healthy.”
Bariatric services are now also available at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center San Pedro. For more information about our programs and locations, contact 844-925-0942 or visit providence.org/southbayweightloss.