“Celebration of Accomplishments” Highlights Health Improvements of Bariatric Surgery Patients
Fall River, MA - Just like their surgeons who took an oath when they became physicians, the patients celebrated at Saint Anne’s Hospital’s on June 1 for the strides they have made through their weight loss journeys also made a pledge. With their right hands raised, having lost a collective two tons, they vowed to fight fat shaming and the stigma surrounding obesity as part of their commitment to their new-found health.
“I choose to fight fat shame wherever and whenever I see it. I choose to fight fat stigma wherever and whenever I see it. I choose to speak up about discrimination against obese people,” they began, reciting the oath.
The empowering moment was one of the highlights of an evening that celebrated about 50 patients’ accomplishments in losing more than 4,000 pounds, achieving significant decreases in blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular risk factors, sleep apnea, and joint pain. It also joyfully marked their freedom to move easily and celebrated those who now have a more positive outlook on life.
“There are patients who just astound you in their dedication and their transformation,” said Dr. Matthew LeMaitre, director of the Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery program at Saint Anne’s Hospital. “We try and teach them that obesity underlies everything about their health, and the multiple benefits they can achieve losing weight.”
The “Celebration of Accomplishments” feted patients who received care in 2020, 2021, and 2022. Since 2018, Saint Anne’s bariatric surgery program has cared for patients whose weight loss goals are only the beginning. From climbing stairs more easily and playing actively with children or grandchildren, to hiking, taking up new sports, and shopping for fun, patients excitedly shared the many accomplishments made possible by significant weight loss and commitment to a healthy lifestyle. They are under the surgical care of Dr. LeMaitre and his colleagues, Dr. Anthony McCluney, and Dr. Danilo Decio.
Many patients have long been part of the hospital’s virtual support group community, which offers sessions in English, Spanish, and Portuguese, yet, thanks to COVID-19 restrictions, the majority had never met in person. Bringing patients, providers, and family members together in person was a true celebration of their personal successes, camaraderie, and shared gratitude.
Part of that community includes a walking group that meets every Saturday for a walk that departs sharply at 8 a.m. at Battleship Cove, in Fall River. More than a dozen people regularly attend, some walking the whole 2.2-mile distance, others walking a part of it at their own pace. The activity is organized by a bariatric patient. Dr. LeMaitre joins as his time permits.
“They are doing something physical and getting a support group while they are walking,” said Dr. LeMaitre. “This isn’t just about the surgery and cutting calories. It’s coming up with a routine that works for you.”
Throughout the pandemic, the use of telehealth enhanced bariatric patients’ access to care, Dr. LeMaitre said. Many patients, due to their health condition, preferred to meet with their care team via telehealth for a first appointment. Patients were encouraged to attend their second appointment at the office, he added, to allow for an in-person evaluation.
The program’s care team and support staff are a vital part of a patient’s journey and their care community. While celebrating patients’ accomplishments, team members were also recognized at the event for their commitment to patients. Patient Program Manager Dorothy Cunningham received “The Empathy Award” and Maryellen Simmons, BSN, RN-BC, program director, Bariatric Surgery, received “The Care Award.”
As patients completed their oath during the celebration, Dr. LeMaitre congratulated them on also becoming activists in the fight against obesity.
“There is a cure for obesity,” he said. “It’s getting over the shame and stigma that surrounds obesity. It’s building community.”