Rachel before and after

Shedding pounds, gaining life

Tuesday, April 1, 2014by Lety Laurel

A comprehensive, multidisciplinary program offers patients struggling with obesity a chance for a new life.

The proof is in the numbers. In just three years, more than 200 patients of the UT Medicine San Antonio Center for Bariatric and Metabolic Surgery have lost a combined total of 10,000 pounds through better nutrition, exercise and surgery. And they didn’t do it alone.

Rachel Pelzel was 32 when her life changed forever.

As a nurse, she saw firsthand the damage that obesity could wreak—diabetes, hypertension, fatty liver—all diagnoses that could eventually lead to the need for organ transplants.

And at 250 pounds, she was a prime candidate for that kind of future.

“My doctor told me my blood pressure was too high and my blood glucose level was borderline for diabetes,” she said. “He asked me to start on blood pressure medication and lose weight.

“Receiving this news was my wake-up call. I had a loving husband, two children ages 3 and 5 and I wanted more than anything to have a long, healthy life with all of them.”

Over the years she had tried appetite suppressants, popular weight-loss programs and physical exercise, even hiring a physical trainer who worked with her three times a week for more than a year. Nothing worked. So she called the UT Medicine San Antonio Center for Bariatric and Metabolic Surgery. On Aug. 8, 2012, she underwent a sleeve gastrectomy, which restricts the amount of food that can be eaten by reducing stomach volume by 85 percent.

A year later, after also adopting a healthier lifestyle that now includes nutritious meals and exercise, she has lost more than 100 pounds and 14 dress sizes.

“My only regret is I wish I would have done it sooner,” she said.

Pelzel is one of 201 patients who have lost a combined 10,000 pounds since the center opened in 2011. It offers a comprehensive, multidisciplinary program that includes evaluation, support, education and treatment for morbidly obese individuals and provides a variety of state-of-the-art bariatric surgical procedures.

“It’s good to lose weight because there are lots of health benefits that go along with it,” said Richard Peterson, M.D., M.P.H., FACS, director of the center. “We’ve seen our patients improve and in many cases resolve their diabetes and blood pressure issues, and many no longer have reflux or heartburn.”

Obesity isn’t simply a consequence of eating too much and exercising too little. For some, heredity, genetics, environment, metabolic issues and eating disorders lead to obesity, Dr. Peterson said.

Chronic health issues often follow. Type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea and respiratory problems, high blood pressure and heart disease, osteoarthritis, depression, reflux and heartburn, urinary stress incontinence and infertility are common illnesses.