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Eric’s story: An incredible new life after bariatric surgery

Thursday, February 01, 2024 3:54 PM

By Endeavor Health

Eric Suarez

Pictured above is Eric Suarez, in front of his family-owned business Taco ‘Bout It, seven years after life-changing bariatric surgery.

Eric Suarez, 33, of Melrose Park, spent his early 20s struggling to lose weight, losing 100 pounds more than once only to gain the weight back again. “By August 2016, I weighed about 545 pounds,” he said.

That year, Suarez was diagnosed with a deep skin infection called cellulitis in his left leg. “It was painful and I spent a week in the hospital,” Suarez explained. “The doctor explained that this was happening because of my weight.”

Suarez described this as a wake-up call. He realized how much his weight was affecting his life. That same month, Suarez began seeing Omar Shamsi, MD, a specialist in bariatric and obesity medicine at Endeavor Health.

“We clicked right away,” said Suarez. “He is an amazing doctor.”

Suarez shared how Dr. Shamsi was kind but straightforward with him about the seriousness of his situation and set him up with a weight loss plan. Dr. Shamsi also put Suarez in contact with Mark Choh, MD, a specialist in bariatric and obesity medicine at Endeavor Health, to schedule bariatric surgery.

Bariatric surgery is a category of surgeries that help people struggling with obesity lose weight. Surgeons may recommend a patient undergo bariatric surgery if obesity poses a serious threat to that person’s health and other attempts to lose weight have been unsuccessful. The surgery modifies your digestive system to restrict how many calories you can consume and reduces the hunger signals your stomach sends to your brain.

The type of bariatric surgery Dr. Choh performed on Suarez is called a sleeve gastrectomy, a procedure that removes approximately 80% of a patient’s stomach, leaving behind a small, tubular “sleeve.” "This

significantly restricts how much a patient can eat and changes a patient's digestive metabolism, affecting their hunger, appetite, and nutrient absorption to further help with weight loss.

“It scared me, but I felt comfortable with Dr. Shamsi and trusted him,” explained Suarez. “I shut off my brain and followed the diet and exercise program he gave me.”

By August 2017, Suarez had lost enough weight and underwent bariatric surgery. “My life completely changed for the better,” he said.

According to Suarez, the procedure was not very painful and he was back home right away. “It’s crazy to go from eating a lot of food to sipping half a cup of water and feeling full,” said Suarez. “The extreme from one to the other was wild.”

Suarez said he had trouble gauging how much he could eat, so he once again did exactly what his doctor and personal trainer told him to do. “The professionals know what they’re doing,” Suarez explained. “I decided to let them take over my life, and I’m thankful they did.”

Seven years later, Suarez enjoys his favorite foods in moderation, works out every day and plays sports like basketball and pickleball.

“I was about to be put on high blood pressure medicine and I had severe sleep apnea,” said Suarez. “Since I had the surgery and started working out, those problems have disappeared.”

"In the seven years since Eric’s surgery, his transformation has been remarkable,” said Dr. Choh. “It is a testament to the significant benefits that people can have from bariatric surgery, but more importantly, it is a way to reinforce how having a motivated, engaged patient through the process can lead to amazing success stories.”

Suarez encourages people who think they could benefit from bariatric surgery to seriously consider it.

“It’s possible and available – why not use it?” he asked. “A lot of people see the surgery as a failure, but it’s an opportunity to use science to help save your life.”

Many aspects of Suarez’s life are completely different now, from simple things like getting in the car with ease or flying economy without a seatbelt extender to being able to enjoy a full day walking around Disney World or Universal Studios.

‘It's incredible how great your life can be when you're not held back by your weight,” said Suarez. “I realized the whole world is in front of me.”

According to Dr. Choh, bariatric surgery is unique because it goes beyond treating someone to help them get back to the life they once had. “With bariatric surgery, we are often offering patients a new and better life that they’ve never had before," he explained.

Dr. Shamsi says that Suarez’s success is about more than just the number on the scale; it’s also about the newfound health he now enjoys.

“Eric chose to prioritize himself, and that’s a victory worth celebrating,” he said.

At Endeavor Health, our weight loss experts offer both surgical and non-surgical options to help you achieve permanent weight loss and the healthy, active life you were meant to live. Learn more.

NorthShore University HealthSystem, Swedish Hospital, Northwest Community Healthcare and Edward-Elmhurst Health are now united under one name, Endeavor Health. We’re setting a new standard for healthcare that’s focused on you, because your best health is our endeavor. Learn more.