As the AtlantiCare Surgical Weight Loss and Wellness Center team marks a milestone 20 years, they reflect on how far the concept and capabilities have come.
Surgeon Samir Patel, M.D. notes positive health changes have been achieved for thousands of patients in that time – 6,360, to be exact.
“Back then, as now, one of our most important messages – one with which I begin every conversation on the topic – is that surgical weight loss is much more than a procedure to help a person ‘shed pounds and look great,’” he said. “Surgical weight loss and wellness, when embraced and followed as a lifestyle, can be so much more.
“As we’ve seen for so many patients throughout our service area, which includes the Manahawkin community, it becomes a powerful tool to improve health, mental strength and quality of life,” said Patel.
The surgeon has been based in the center in Egg Harbor Township, Atlantic County, but will begin working in the AtlantiCare Health Park in Manahawkin in April.
When AtlantiCare’s Center for Surgical Weight Loss and Wellness began offering bariatric – or weight loss – surgery in 2002, the center was the first in the region to introduce the treatment for morbid obesity.
At the start of the program, gastric bypass by the name Roux-en-Y was offered; then in 2003, the center began providing the Lap Band.
“Over the years, the field of bariatrics has evolved with new technology and advancements in medicine. The gastric sleeve procedure introduced in 2010 as a new restrictive bariatric option quickly gained popularity with patients replacing the Lap Band,” Patel detailed. “Through this procedure, we reduce the stomach to be more the shape of a tube or banana. This procedure allows for better absorption of nutrients. For individuals who qualify, AtlantiCare provides weight loss surgeries laparoscopically, that is, minimally invasively.”
In December 2020, AtlantiCare’s Center for Surgical Weight Loss and Wellness experienced another first in the region when surgeons performed their first robotic weight-loss surgery.
Since then, more than 150 weight loss surgeries have been performed robotically. These include the gastric sleeve, gastric bypass, and revision surgery that includes the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass.
“The da Vinci Robotic system arms allow our surgeons to make small, precise movements with minimal trauma to the abdominal wall, resulting in less postoperative pain, often a shorter hospital stay and a faster recovery,” Patel said.
To qualify for surgery, a person must have a body mass index greater than 35 with an obesity-related comorbidity, or a BMI greater than 40 with no additional comorbidities. The BMI is a measure that uses height and weight to determine a healthy weight.
“However, for those who might not qualify for surgery – or who do qualify but do not want to undergo surgery – our team also provides a variety of non-surgical treatment options,” Patel added. “Like surgery, the non-surgical approach has evolved over the years and is based on the unique needs of an individual.”
Post-procedural care is an important part of the process. “As with other options, the AtlantiCare team approach in these cases provides care for an individual in their journey to achieve and maintain a healthy weight,” Patel pointed out.
Services and support include physician/provider guided care; registered dietitian counseling, nutritional planning and education; and a three-month membership to the AtlantiCare LifeCenter with personalized coaching and health evaluations.
“Lastly, it’s important to recognize the value participating in a surgical weight loss and wellness program can provide when it comes to improving obesity-related life-limiting and dangerous health issues,” Patel advises patients. He listed major illness risks that have been reduced or eliminated.
“For example, coming into our 20th year, our team at AtlantiCare estimates that between 70% to 80% of our Center for Surgical Weight Loss and Wellness patients who presented with type 2 diabetes and experience successful weight loss also experience remission of their diabetes.
“Other co-morbidities that might see improvement include hypertension (or high blood pressure), sleep apnea, diabetes mellitus, coronary heart disease, and/or gastroesophageal reflux disease. Over the last two decades, we’ve seen our patients reduce or eliminate co-morbidities through their commitment to making healthy, lifelong changes.”
Patel said, “Weight loss is truly a life-changing event. … We are committed to guiding you in your journey long after surgery or participation in our medical management program.”
More information can be found on the website atlanticare.org or by calling the AtlantiCare Access Center at 1-888-569-1000. —M.S.