When Dr. Mitchell Roslin, Director of the Bariatric Surgery Program at Northern Westchester Hospital, opened the door to his examination room, he saw two warm, sincere brown eyes looking into his. This was Benjamin Bloom, age 36.
It was 2012, and they were consulting on a revisional procedure (additional surgery for patients who don’t lose significant weight after earlier bariatric surgery) to help Ben control the weight steadily slipping back after gastric bypass surgery seven years ago elsewhere.
Now at 290 pounds – up from the 220 pounds he achieved after the gastric bypass, but down from his top weight of 401 pounds — Ben was glad Dr. Roslin gave a green light to the procedure. Ben’s surgery would downsize his stomach by placing an adjustable band around the top part causing him to eat less and feel full faster.
Ben’s revisional surgery with Dr. Roslin was a success and he began to lose weight again. “But for me,” Ben confesses, “it’s still a battle, still a struggle, every day.”
Always the big kid
The struggle started early. Chunky as a kid, he put on more weight as a teen. “I don’t remember not being big. I was always gaining weight – I loved food. I feel I have an addiction, an obsession. I gravitate to …everything. They say you crave sugar or salt. But I want cookies and chips. And I like big portions.”
As a teen, he hoped getting slimmer would bring him girlfriends. Again and again, he tried to shed pounds. But the weight he lost came right back on. Ben developed into a young man of five feet 11 inches with a medium build.
His mother passed away from cancer the day of Ben’s high school graduation. “I was a basket case. At college, I just went to class. And ate. I got close to 350 pounds.” In February of 2000, at 380 pounds, Ben started his first job as a high-school English teacher.
Other aspects of his life were working well. He enjoyed teaching the rich literature geared to adolescents, “performing stories in class every day,” hoping to ignite in students his own “life-changing” moment in second grade when the teacher read aloud Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. Ben’s greatest satisfaction was “teaching kids with a lot of struggles – family, home. Immigrant kids new to the country.”
The son of parents who divorced when he was a stunned and disbelieving seven, Ben’s one dream was “to have my own family, and have it be successful.” And he is living his dream. He married Maria and they have two daughters. “Maria married me when I was 380 pounds. She loves me whatever. She just wants me to be happy.”
In 2005, at age 29, now 401 pounds, Ben had gastric bypass surgery. “It was a question of energy – I was getting too big. I started having a problem running after my baby daughter. I didn’t feel comfortable getting on the floor with her.”
After the procedure, the “honeymoon period was amazing. I couldn’t eat too much. And I learned how to eat better.” He got down to 225 pounds. “But after a couple of years, I was struggling again.” The weight crept back on.
Soon, “It was getting sort of crazy – I was up to about 260 pounds. I was getting scared.” Ben consulted with Dr. Roslin, telling the bariatric surgeon he was interested in having a revision of the bypass, and that he’d heard that Northern Westchester Hospital’s Surgical Weight Loss Program has had success with these type of patients.
Before and after his revisional procedure, Ben and Dr. Roslin discussed life after the surgery. Recalls Ben: “He told me ‘This isn’t going to work if you don’t work with it.’” Today, Ben is a lifetime Weight Watchers member, counts points, and goes to the gym three days a week. He weighs 249 pounds, with a goal weight in the 220s.
In 2000, eight years after his revisional surgery, Ben had the excess hanging skin typical with people who lose large amounts of weight quickly through bariatric surgery. When he asked Dr. Roslin if he knew someone who could remove it, Dr. Roslin recommended Dr. Michael Rosenberg, Attending Plastic Surgeon and Vice-President for Physician Surgical Services at Northern Westchester Hospital. Ben met with Dr. Rosenberg and they decided on a tummy tuck. He had the surgery on July 21, 2000 and is pleased with the results.
Ben was a good candidate for plastic surgery, says Dr. Rosenberg, because “he was at a weight he’s comfortable with, can live with, and has held for at least three months.” Normally, he adds, plastic surgery follows bariatric surgery by 12-15 months. “We want to avoid doing surgery twice.”
Ben was like many others who look to plastic surgery to “complete the process,” explains Dr. Rosenberg. “After losing a great deal of weight, people expect to finally look the way they want to. But hanging skin is not what they envisioned. They’re happy they’re thinner, but need closure.” Removing excess skin also eliminates the chronic skin rashes and infections common with hanging skin, and makes walking and exercise far more comfortable.
Though Ben was worried about a long recovery, he bounced back to normal life in six weeks. People can usually drive by the first or second week after this surgery, and return to work between week one and week six. As to appearances, “you get a nice improvement almost immediately,” notes Dr. Rosenberg. “Because of swelling in the tissue, you see the final result in three to six months.” Naturally, patients who’ve battled weight all their lives worry how their tightened skin will react to weight gain. “A little weight, five to 15 pounds, is not a problem,” says Dr. Rosenberg. “On the other hand, if you regain 40 pounds, it’s going to interfere with the results of plastic surgery.”
Teamwork gave Ben peace of mind
The professional relationship between Dr. Roslin and Dr. Rosenberg gave Ben “peace of mind, and confidence.” Adds Dr. Rosenberg, “the value of coordinated care is very true here. When the bariatric surgeon and plastic surgeon have a close working relationship, each understands the nuances of the other’s work, and the patient gets a unified presentation of what to expect.”
Says Ben: “Everyone at Northern Westchester Hospital was extremely supportive of my bariatric surgery and plastic surgery. They want you to be happy, if that is your decision.”
To those considering surgical weight loss, Ben says: “I would 100 percent say do it. I tell people, ‘I’m on the other side of the mountain. I’d rather have the same struggles with food at 240 pounds rather than at 401 pounds.’ Also look into having plastic surgery for hanging skin. I’m much happier now with how I look and feel.”
Ben’s wife, Maria, loves the changes. But mostly, she’s happy that Ben is happy. She loves him no matter what.
To learn more about surgical weight loss, visit nwh.northwell.edu/surgical-weight-loss
Interested in plastic surgery? Visit nwh.northwell.edu/plastic-surgery