Up until last year, Carisa Malanum had tried everything to lose weight. From fad diets to manic exercise regimens, the now 42-year-old had racked her brain
and her wallet to get the pounds to come off. But nothing was getting better.

Carisa, who works at the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board to bring conventions to Los Angeles, saw her health problems pile up as the number on the scale stubbornly refused to budge.

“I was on two blood pressure medicines,” she said, “and I had a heart test that said my heart was weak and wasn’t operating where it should be at my age.” An old knee injury wasn’t healing properly because of the extra weight she carried around. Sleep apnea left her tired and listless.

After dealing with these health issues for nearly three years, she decided that enough was enough. In 2012, she knew she either had to make a drastic change, or live out the rest of her life heavily medicated and in pain.

“If I didn’t do something about it, I was going to shorten my life,” she said. “You just think, ‘oh my gosh, my life can’t end in my 40s.’”

Carisa and her physician Sharon Orrange, MD, an internist at Keck Medicine of USC, put their heads together in order to come up with the best plan for her. They settled on laparoscopic gastric bypass surgery, a minimally invasive procedure that reduces the size of the stomach in order to facilitate weight loss.

Despite knowing that it was perhaps her last and best hope, Carisa said it wasn’t a decision that came easily.

“It’s one of those things that you don’t consider first,” she said. “It was a health issue, though, and my doctor and I had heart-to-heart about it, and she said, ‘I think this is your best option.’”

Carisa was referred to Namir Katkhouda, MD, professor of surgery and the director of the USC Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery Program. An expert in the field, Katkhouda has been performing gastric bypass surgeries since 2001, and laparoscopic procedures since the late 1980s.

Upon reading about Katkhouda’s level of expertise and meeting him in person, Carisa decided that she would be in excellent hands.

“I decided on Dr. Katkhouda because he’s such a pioneer,” she said. “He brings in this world-renowned experience.”

Carisa had her surgery at Keck Hospital of USC in June of 2012, and the procedure and recovery went without a hitch.

Within 30 days, she began to notice a difference in her daily life. At first, she said, she simply found that it was easier for her to move around.

“It could be as simple as I am going to take the stairs, not the elevator,” she said, “or I will walk to wherever I need to go rather than drive.”

But in the year following her surgery, the changes have been dramatic. Her weight has gone from 261 pounds to 147 pounds. The blood pressure medication is gone, too.

Even with a family history of high blood pressure, Carisa’s is now ideal for someone of her age and stature.

Following a plan set by Katkhouda, she takes vitamins and exercises for an hour a day, five days a week. She has even taken up paddle boarding, rock climbing and yoga.

Carisa was inspired to change her life as her body changed, but she noted that part of what made her recovery process so positive were the doctors and nurses at Keck. Not only did they answer all of her questions and treat her concerns with respect, she said, they provided encouragement that pushed her to do her best.

“When I would do my rounds during recovery, everyone at the nurses station would cheer me on,” she said.

Katkhouda agreed that Carisa did incredibly well in her recovery. “I don’t recall her ever having a problem. It changed her life,” he said.

In addition to her newfound health, Carisa explained that she has more energy to exercise and to play with her nieces and nephews, and is able to get outdoors and take part in life in a way that seemed impossible just a year ago.

Recalling how she used to have to sit out activities such as horseback riding and group sports, she says, now everything has changed.

“I’m the one who does all the physical challenges,” she said. “Running, endurance; I’m not the person I would ever have said I was going to be. My life is about participating rather than sitting on the sidelines.”

THE FOUR MECHANISMS OF GASTRIC BYPASS SURGERY

Among the most common weight loss surgeries in the world, gastric bypass surgery utilizes four mechanisms designed to allow the patient to see a reduction in weight. All four of these aspects combine to result in more than a reduction in weight, but also an alleviation of secondary symptoms and health concerns caused by being overweight.

> 1 The stomach is made smaller, in order to reduce the amount of food that the patient is able to eat.
> 2 The surgery connects that smaller stomach directly to the middle portion of the small intestine, allowing fewer nutrients and calories to be absorbed.
> 3 The procedure helps the body reduce ghrelin, the hunger hormone, so the patient wants to eat less.
> 4 The bypass results in less food being digested.

–By Jessica Ogilvie