Lost and Found

Noelle Bartolis, 45, just celebrated the second anniversary of her weight-loss surgery. Over the past two years she has lost 140 pounds, and in the process she has found a healthy, active lifestyle that she can enjoy now and into the future. As proof, in September 2013, a year and two months after her surgery, Bartolis climbed over 1,000 feet of steep, rocky terrain with her sister Alison, to reach the summit of Stone Mountain in Stone Mountain, Georgia. This event marked the beginning of a new chapter in her life, one that includes vigorous activity and adventures that would not have been possible before.Bartolis did not come easily to her decision about having weight-loss surgery. A yo-yo dieter for her entire adult life, she had tried every popular diet plan available. She always lost weight, she says, only to gain it back with a few extra pounds added on. The excess weight she carried aggravated her rheumatoid arthritis. She slept with a CPAP machine for obesity-related sleep apnea, she was on medication for high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and she had trouble shaking off colds. After work she would go home and sit on the couch. “I didn’t want to go out,” she says.

“Everyday things other people take for granted, I couldn’t,” says Bartolis. “One of my weight-loss goals was to be able to shut the door in a public restroom stall without having to straddle the toilet in order to close the door,” she confesses. “I also wanted to ride the roller coaster with my kids without wondering if the safety bar on the seat would snap closed. I wanted to be able to get on an airplane without being afraid the seat would be too small.”

Two years ago, Bartolis spotted an ad in the newspaper for an informational seminar about weight-loss surgery featuring a talk by bariatric surgeon Dr. Brian Bollo from Surgical Associates of
Ithaca. She had already done a lot of research and decided that the opportunity to hear a surgeon, a nurse, and a nutritionist speak about the surgery would be helpful. At the end of the program, she signed up to find out more about what the surgery entailed. In that meeting, they talked in more detail about the different surgical options.

The bariatric surgeons at Cayuga Medical Center, Dr. John Mecenas and Dr. Brian Bollo, perform three types of surgery: laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding, roux-en-Y gastric bypass, and laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy. Knowing herself—and having done the research—Bartolis felt that roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery was the right choice for her.

“The people at the Cayuga Center for Bariatric Surgery gave me a whole packet of information. They have developed a system for people who are having bariatric surgery and if you follow it you will be successful,” says Bartolis. The process of learning about food after surgery is partly trial and error, she admits, because people’s tastes change following surgery. But the program recommendations about when, what, and how much to eat were extremely helpful.

“My health has changed. I no longer have sleep apnea and I haven’t taken medications for high blood pressure or high cholesterol since the day of my surgery. My energy level is higher and I am constantly on the go with my kids,” says Bartolis. As a budget analyst and internal auditor for Ithaca College, she must travel all over the hilly campus to different departments. “I couldn’t breathe by the time I finished climbing campus stairs,” she says. “I used to do everything I could to avoid stairs so I often drove to meetings. Now I walk to meetings and I take the stairs.

“I’ve maintained this weight for ten months so I think this is where I should be,” Bartolis says. “I eat what I’m supposed to eat and I am doing what I should to maintain my loss. I no longer like the feeling of being full or the ‘food coma’ that comes from overeating. For me, this is about portion control and listening to my body telling me I’m done eating. I haven’t so much changed what I eat, but I have changed how I eat. I stay active and walk regularly, and I have weights and exercise DVDs to do at home a few times a week.” In her not-so-spare time, Bartolis is also a Pampered Chef consultant, demonstrating recipes and cookware products.

Dr. John Mecenas is Bartolis’s bariatric surgeon. Mecenas established the bariatric surgery program at Cayuga Medical Center in 2002 and was later joined by Dr. Brian Bollo. “Dr. Mecenas came very highly recommended, and he is amazing,” she says. “He is very thorough and he has a great manner about him.” Bartolis knows people who have had weight-loss surgery elsewhere with surgeons who were not as supportive as Mecenas. She says the resources weren’t as good as they are here, and these people gained their weight back.

Bartolis points out that weight-loss surgery is just one tool for losing weight; it is not the entire solution to the problem of obesity. “People considering bariatric surgery need to ask themselves why they want it,” she says. “You have to be willing to work at it continuously. If food is an addiction, as it was for me, you have to be willing to look at that. You have to reach some important understandings about yourself and the program first, or it’s not in your best interest to go through the surgery.”

When she and her daughter look at old family pictures, Bartolis realizes that she has lost the equivalent of the weight of a whole person. “The surgery definitely changed my life,” she says. “It was the best decision I ever made.”

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