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Alexander Onopchenko, MD, runs ING Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon with weight loss surgery patientSergio%20Gomez%20and%20Dr_%20Onopchenko%20at%20start%20of%20Phila%20ING%20Rock%20n%20Roll%20marathonAlexander Onopchenko, MD, FACS stands with his weight loss surgery patient Sergio Gomez, 26, of Atlantic City, at the start of the ING Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon, September 19.

Just ten months after Alexander Onopchenko, MD, FACS, medical director, AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center’s (ARMC) Center for Surgical Weight Loss & Wellness performed weight loss surgery for Sergio Gomez, 26, of Atlantic City, New Jersey, the pair ran the ING Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon. Onopchenko finished just seconds ahead of his patient in the September 19 event. The two plan to link up again to run the Atlantic City Half Marathon next mont

“The decision to undergo weight loss surgery was more about getting healthy, than losing weight,” said Gomez. “My diabetes was getting out of control.”

Gomez said he had struggled with weight issues since fourth grade. He developed diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. After attending a weight loss surgery seminar, Gomez met with Onopchenko for a consultation in September, 2009. Onopchenko determined he was a good candidate for surgery.

“Sergio was a very nice young man who had tried just about everything to lose weight with modest success,” said Onopchenko. “His determination to improve his health was evident.”

AtlantiCare requires individuals follow a step-by-step enrollment process into its Weight Loss Surgery program to ensure it is right for them. Following the seminar, which AtlantiCare offers online and in person, attendees take an online test to make sure they understand the surgery and its implications. Potential patients then complete an online registration form and meet one-on-one with a surgeon.

During this consultation, the AtlantiCare physician speaks with the patient to learn his or her complete medical history, conducts a physical and answers questions. If there are any additional health concerns—for example, if the patient has diabetes or a heart condition—the patient must undergo pre-operative tests with specialists to be cleared for surgery.

“The decision to undergo weight loss surgery was more about getting healthy, than losing weight,” said Gomez. “My diabetes was getting out of control.”

Onopchenko performed Gomez’s laparoscopic gastric bypass surgery November 30, 2009. The minimally invasive surgery went well with no complications and a standard two-day hospital stay.

Gastric bypass surgery divides the stomach into a small upper portion from the larger lower portion so that only the small upper portion, which is reduced to be about the size of a medium-sized egg, receives the food. This promotes a significant decrease in food intake and creates a longer feeling of fullness after meals. The operation also bypasses a portion of the small intestines to reduce the calories the body absorbs and produces a feeling of satisfaction from eating a small amount.

“AtlantiCare made the entire process from informational seminars to surgery and beyond very easy,” said Gomez. “Everyone has shown me a lot of support.”

“Dr. Onopchenko is great. He is very informative, thorough and always makes things easy for me to understand.”

Two months after surgery, Gomez was able to comfortably begin exercising. Now he runs 5 miles every other day and 10 miles on his “long” days. He has lost 83 pounds and has dropped his body mass index ( BMI) from 40 (morbidly obese) to 28 (overweight). He no longer suffers from diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure. By regularly exercising, maintaining healthy eating habits and refraining from drinking alcohol, Gomez plans to continue his journey to better health.

“He has been a ‘model’ patient,” said Onopchenko. “He follows postoperative rules to the letter and never misses an appointment.”

Back in February of this year, Gomez set a goal to compete in the ING Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon. He has been training ever since. Onopchenko and his wife Trish celebrate their anniversary each year by running the race.

“It is most rewarding to witness how a single operation can resolve a young person’s serious medical problems and produce such marvelous results,” said Onopchenko. “Running this race with him was a proud moment for me, and symbolized our efforts together from preoperative consultation to support after surgery. Like I tell all of my patients, ‘we are in this together.’”

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ARMC Patient to Participate In Ironman

ironmanHe lost 185 pounds but he hopes to gain ground and water next Sunday. Derek DeGutis, of Lanoka Harbor, New Jersey, will participate in the Ford Ironman® Lake Placid Triathlon Sunday, July 25, Lake Placid, New York. The 2010 race course features a 2.4-mile swim in Mirror Lake, a 112-mile bike ride through Lake Placid and surrounding areas and a 26.2-mile run.

DeGutis, 35, a mortgage banker, and his wife Casandra, 32, said they are both living healthier lives after having weight loss surgery at the Center for Surgical Weight Loss & Wellness at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center (ARMC) Atlantic City Campus. Both said they had struggled with weight issues for much of their lives before taking advantage of a free informational seminar AtlantiCare’s Center for Surgical Weight Loss & Wellness about weight loss surgery.

The DeGutises met with surgeons from four different organizations, including Wael Kouli, MD, a fellowship-trained bariatric surgeon at AtlantiCare. “We hit it off immediately with Dr. Kouli,” said Derek about their first meeting. “He is so knowledgeable, but is also approachable and low-key. We were impressed.”

Kouli was similarly impressed with the DeGutises. “They were special,” he said. “They were engaged in the process and had researched the procedure. It was clear they were determined. They also were energetic and had a loving relationship. I knew they would be good candidates for surgery.”

Casandra and Derek determined Derek would have his surgery first. His surgery was November 2007; Casandra’s was January 2008.

AtlantiCare requires that individuals follow a step-by-step enrollment process into its Weight Loss Surgery program to ensure it is right for them. Following the seminar, which can be done online or in person, attendees take an online test to make sure they understand the procedure and implications of the surgery. Potential patients then complete an online registration form and meet one-on-one with a surgeon.

During this consultation, the AtlantiCare physician gets the patient’s complete medical history, conducts a physical and answers questions. If there are any additional health concerns—for example, if the patient has diabetes or a heart condition—the patient must undergo pre-operative tests with specialists to be cleared for surgery.

“We customize the program to meet individual patient needs,” Kouli explained. “Patients not only consult with their surgeon, they also speak with many others involved in their care before and after their procedure, including a psychologist, a nutritionist and an anesthesiologist. We treat the whole person and make it clear that we will support him or her in the long-term.”

Preparing for surgery
Casandra and Derek also took advantage of a support group at AtlantiCare, where they met with others going through the surgery, as well as individuals who had already had surgery. “It is one of the biggest keys for success,” said Derek. “Through the group, we learned things that we still do today like keep a food journal and support each other by food shopping and exercising together. We also met great people who we still keep in touch with.”

Making lifestyle changes
“The day I got home, Cassie and I walked about 150 yards to a stop sign close to our house, but that’s as far as I could go,” said Derek of his post-surgery experience. “But every day we went a little bit farther and a little bit farther. Eventually, I began jogging and biking.”

As Derek was incorporating regular exercise into his routine, Casandra was preparing for her own surgery, starting her liquid diet on New Year’s Day.

Her surgery also went well, and just two weeks after the procedure she felt so good she decided to go snow tubing—and promptly broke her leg. She had to keep the leg elevated, and could not exercise or lift weights.

“It was mentally very hard,” she admitted. “Derek and I do everything together. But during this time, I had to sit in the living room while he was on the treadmill. Eventually I did physical therapy, and from there began exercising.”

The couple that exercises together
Casandra and Derek exercise together daily. They said they understand that while surgery started them on the road to better health, maintaining good habits, including regular exercise, is the key to life-long fitness. They also go food shopping together and make sure to read all food ingredients labels.

In addition to participating in the Ironman, Derek ran the New York City Marathon in November, 2009. Casandra goes to the gym regularly and has lost 126 pounds to date. She completed her first 5K run at the December 2009 Jingle Bell Run in Toms River, New Jersey.

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