Lovelace's Bariatric Surgeon Presents a Success Story

Dennis Domrzalski, Reporter- Albuquerque Business First

Last summer, Deborah Miller was a prisoner in her own house and of her own weight.

At five-foot-five-inches tall, she weighed 245 pounds. And during the summer, the Grants school teacher left the house only to go to church. She couldn’t descend the stairs to her basement to do laundry.

She was on medication for diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Three times during the school year she was on crutches and couldn’t perform recess or cafeteria duty.

Now, Miller is 80 pounds lighter, is off her $300-a-month meds and is training for a triathlon for next summer.

“I was very sick, and I am not sick any more,” Miller told Albuquerque Business First. “This has given me my life back.”

What gave the 51-year-old Miller her life back was the gastric sleeve surgery she underwent in December 2013 at Lovelace Westside Hospital.

The surgery is relatively new and it involves removing about 75 percent of the stomach and leaving a banana-shaped tube behind. The stomach is removed through a small incision in a patient’s belly button.

“It is a restrictive surgery which means that patients eat less of everything. What they end up eating will be on the palm of their hand, about the size of their cell phone. Two ounces of fish and two ounces of vegetables is a normal dinner,” said Dr. Duc Vuong, the director of Lovelace Bariatrics who performed Miller’s surgery. “It takes me an hour total of operating time and it is a day and a half in the hospital for the patient.”

For Miller, the surgery and the change it has brought, was a long time coming.

“I have been at least in the overweight category since 13 or 14. In my family we ate a lot of junk food and as a teenager I became less and less active and I got to the point where I weighed 245 in 2007,” Miller explained.

“Through the years, I have been on so many different diets. I tried WeightWatchers several times and I tried every popular diet – the cabbage diet, the South Beach Diet. I tried counting calories and exercising more and tried low-fat and low-carbs, and then high protein. I would lose 10 or 15 pounds and then get stalled and gain it back and get discouraged.”

Miller said that over the years she had approached doctors about bariatric surgery but they had discouraged it. Then, at a picnic in May 2013 she heard people telling a woman how wonderful she looked and asking how much weight she had lost. Miller quizzed the woman, who told her about the bariatric surgery she had at Lovelace Westside Hospital.

Miller investigated and started a program with Vuong that focused on nutrition and eating right. It was a good thing she did.

“My diabetes was getting harder and harder to control and I was taking shots. I had to increase the dosage for all my medications. Three different times this past school year I was on crutches. If I went to stores I couldn’t walk and had to use the wheelchair cart.”

Prior to the surgery and while on the nutrition and lifestyle program with Vuong, Miller lost 30 pounds. Since the surgery on Dec. 16, 2013, she has lost another 50.2 pounds. She has another eight pounds to go.

Bariatric surgeries cost between $9,500 and $24,000, with an average price being $15,000, according to one obesity website. Miller’s insurance picked up most of the cost and she had to pay $2,800 in out-of-pocket expenses.

Vuong, who has been doing bariatric surgeries for six years, said the surgeries are good deals for both insurers and companies because they lead to healthier members, more productive employees and fewer medical expenses.

“For insurers, studies have shown that the cost of weight-loss surgery is recuperated in three to five years. The companies are no longer paying for medication, and patients aren’t going to the hospital for diabetes or other conditions,” Vuong said.

“The employer gets back a much healthier and productive employee who has much more energy and vitality. They are out of hospitals and they become much better and productive workers.”

Miller’s weight loss has motivated her husband and son, who have lost 30 and 40 pounds respectively since her surgery.

“Right now, I am living my life,” Miller said. “I have been given my life back.”

Deborah Miller has lost 80 pounds since undergoing gastric sleeve surgery. The following photo was taken after the surgery.

Albuquerque Business First

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