This story is adapted from the Winter 2009 edition of Traditions, a newsletter for friends and supporters of The Miriam Hospital.
When Ed Porreca reached 405 pounds, he did some serious soul searching. "I had to be brutally honest with myself," he says. "I asked myself, 'What are my demons? What are the things preventing me from maintaining a healthy lifestyle?'"
For six-foot-tall, then 37-year-old Porreca, who lives in Attleboro, the answers were poor portion control and not being able to realize when he was full. "I needed to be able to conquer those, so in my research, bariatric surgery seemed like the obvious choice. And of the two most common bariatric surgeries-gastric bypass and lap gastric band-lap gastric band seemed the better to combat my demons."
His primary care doctor referred him to Siva Vithiananthan, MD, chief of minimally invasive and bariatric surgery at The Miriam Hospital. "We offer our patients a comprehensive, multidisciplinary, team-based solution,"says Vithiananthan. "We have a long tradition of advocating weight loss treatments for adults, dating back to 1989 when we started our medical weight loss program."
At first, Miriam surgeons performed 10 to 15 bariatric operations a year. After a significant investment in new technology, staff training and patient-centered programs, the number of surgeries has risen to about 125 a year. The team includes surgeons, cardiologists, pulmonologists, psychologists, dietitians, primary care physicians, nurse practitioners, a patient advocate and a bariatric coordinator. "We have highly trained specialists and the most sophisticated OR and advanced minimally invasive technology available," says Vithiananthan.
"We're not just treating obesity; we are also treating diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnea-the killers that make obese patients die young," says Vithiananthan. "We've had great success in decreasing the risk for heart disease and strokes, among other problems, and that's why it's considered a lifesaving operation rather than something superficial or cosmetic."
Fortunately for Porreca, he did not have diabetes or serious heart conditions at the time of his surgery, only low-level hypertension. He knew, though, that his weight put him at high risk for health problems over time. "I was secure in my decision to have the lap gastric band surgery because I knew I had found the right program," says Porreca. "With the help of my doctor and the support of my wife, I didn't need a lot of other input."
Vithiananthan performed the procedure in June, 2008. After spending one night at The Miriam, Porreca went home and felt well enough to return to work two days later. "I had followed the preoperative instructions and diet to a T, and I believe that really benefited me in my recovery," he says.
After almost three years and a "complete lifestyle overhaul," Porreca is now focused on maintaining his target weight of 240 pounds. "I've had to retrain my entire thought process toward food and my overall health," he says. "I am living proof that the lap gastric band can work under the right conditions."
As part of his new, healthy lifestyle, Porreca took up running. He ran his first-ever 5-kilometer road race in Narragansett in February 2009. That led to triathlon springs, 5-mile road races, and more 5k's.
His three children-11, 9 and 7-run along with him. "They're my kids, and part of my responsibility is to provide them a safe, nurturing, healthy lifestyle," says Porreca. And his wife, Heather, has lost over 100 pounds since undergoing gastric bypass surgery in June of 2010.
"I still feel like the fat guy. That was my role forever," Porreca concludes. "As Dr. V says, 'I'm not doing a brain transplant here; I'm just putting in a lap gastric band.' The whole process-your food lifestyle, your physical lifestyle, your social lifestyle-it takes time to change; it takes time to become accustomed to that. But it's still me inside."