The weight gain happened slowly, following a back injury that benched the soccer-loving Lori Zaccari at the age of 31. Then health issues started to creep in – rising cholesterol levels and blood pressure, borderline diabetes.
By the time Lori Zaccari was 44, her appearance and health had undergone a troubling transformation. She stopped posing for photos with her family, and each time she went to see her primary care physician, it seemed she required a new medication.
“Year over year, my biometrics and weight were creeping up,” said Zaccari, who is a nurse at Hoag’s Pickup Family Neurosciences Institute. “Every time I went to see my doctor, I needed something new: blood pressure medication, a diuretic, then cholesterol meds. I weighed 280 pounds. The closer I got to 300, the more I said, ‘This cannot happen.’”
Zaccari was the first patient to undergo bariatric surgery as part of Hoag’s new Bariatric Weight Loss Program. The comprehensive program partners with patients on a life-altering journey to do more than lose weight.
“The program was seamless. Being the first person to go through it and still thinking it was an amazing experience speaks volumes about the people who work at Hoag,” she said.
Zaccari underwent mental health and cognitive health evaluations, education meetings with a registered dietician, regular screenings with endocrinologist David Ahn, M.D., and consultations with Adrian Dobrowolsky, M.D., a highly skilled surgeon with extensive experience in bariatric surgery.
“Hoag did right by recruiting Dr. Dobrowolsky,” she said. “He is amazing. He’s super personable and he is very experienced, very comfortable talking to people. He’s confident in what he knows and does.
Carol, the nurse practitioner assisting Dr. Dobrowolsky and working in his office with him is also amazing, according to Lori.
“Even though it was a new program, I had zero fears going into this surgery,” she said. “The team’s expertise and focus on successful patient outcomes was reassuring and made me feel at ease. I’m grateful I had my surgery at Hoag.”
Zaccari had pursued weight loss surgery with a different hospital in 2017 but put it off after she was diagnosed with celiac disease. She felt that learning to live with celiac was disruptive enough. When she decided to inquire about bariatric surgery again, she was thrilled to learn that Hoag offered the service.
While she had completed many of the required steps back in 2017, Zaccari said Hoag’s program is intentionally comprehensive and thorough.
“It was four months from the time I pursued my surgery to the time I had surgery,” she said. “I had four nutrition assessment appointments, each one month apart. I had four appointments with endocrinology to go over my labs. This shows you’re making progress toward healthy choices, that you’re committed and that what the dietician is teaching you is taking effect.”
Hoag’s commitment to setting patients up for success struck Zaccari as unique and important. This became particularly apparent in her meetings with Clinical Psychologist Lauren Bennett, Ph.D.
“She wanted to make sure that, if we solved the addiction to food, it wouldn’t be replaced by an addiction to something else. That can happen to a lot of people,” Zaccari said. “Then there was a memory assessment that was pretty intense. It was all designed to make sure that I was in the right head space for this surgery.”
Because Zaccari is both a nurse at Hoag and the program’s first patient, she was able to offer helpful feedback to fine-tune the program – particularly when it came to the recommended pre- and post-op diets. But, she said, there were surprisingly few kinks in the new program.
“It was a top-notch experience,” she said. “They are committed to making the program on par with every other program we have.”
Five months after her bariatric sleeve surgery, Zaccari had lost 80 pounds and six dress sizes. She was able to stop taking her blood pressure medication and cut her cholesterol medication in half. Her borderline sleep apnea symptoms disappeared, her eating habits are altered for the better and she is back to exercising with gusto.
“When you want to work out and crave working out, it’s an awesome feeling,” Zaccari said. “I enjoy being active again, and I feel a lot better.”
A month before undergoing the bariatric surgery, Zaccari and her family went on a trip to Hawaii. Bucking her decade-long trend, she made a point of posing for the camera.
“If we go back to Hawaii, I want to be able to use the pictures for comparison,” she said.
But the “before” and “after” shots are not just for her own edification. The nurse hopes that her story will help inspire and educate others who could benefit from a medical or surgical weight loss program.
“The more I can share about it, the more I can inspire other people to explore it, the better,” she said. “Surgery is not for everyone, but it made me healthier.”
“Lori’s journey and progress is exactly what we aimed to deliver at Hoag when we designed this program. We are proud to have built such a robust offering and are thrilled to provide these services for our community,” said Dr. Dobrowolsky.
For more information on the Hoag Bariatric Weight Loss Program, visit hoag.org/WeightLoss or call 949-764-8065.