- Associated Press - Sunday, February 28, 2016

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) - Frank Barron of Branford has walked along the sidelines for 42 years as a football and lacrosse coach, most recently at Daniel Hand and Branford high schools.

But it was the 75-yard walk last week down the hallway of the new bariatric surgery unit at Yale-New Haven Hospital’s Saint Raphael Campus that had a special meaning for Barron, 65. One day after undergoing a laparoscopic gastric bypass, he made the walk without a cane or a walker, which he had relied on when his weight grew to 360 pounds.

“I’m very much looking forward to this 43rd year with those boys” on the Branford High lacrosse team; he’s the assistant coach of the team and a retired teacher of English and journalism.

Barron’s goal is to get down to 217 pounds and he knows the surgery, in which his stomach capacity was reduced to 1 ounce, is only one tool, as his son Greg reminded him. “A lot of it’s my willingness to do what I’m supposed to do,” which includes a restricted diet and exercise, Barron said.

Greg Barron is “the backstory that keeps me motivated,” said Frank Barron. A cancer survivor, Greg is a fourth-year medical student at the University of Connecticut and helped his father research the best way to tackle his obesity. He told his father he should have the surgery done at Yale-New Haven.

The 15-bed bariatric surgery unit was designed by the firm Shepley Bullfinch and completely renovated.

“This place was taken down to 80-year-old brick and the outer walls and completely redone,” said Dr. Andrew Duffy, director of bariatric and minimally invasive surgery for the Yale New Haven Health System, which includes both Yale-New Haven campuses as well as Bridgeport Hospital.

Everything, from the doorways to the hallways, is wider and larger than in a standard hospital unit and the facilities, especially the bathrooms, were built to be big and strong enough for heavy patients.

“We’re really equipped to accommodate the largest of the large, safely,” said Duffy.

“This is dedicated primarily to patients seeking a surgical cure to obesity, diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnea,” Duffy said. “These are patients who are impacting their health” and the surgery is “taking them to this next chapter of their life where they’re more active.”

Obesity upsets the body’s hormonal balance, making it even harder to lose weight. “This is a true metabolic phenomenon where their bodies are working against them,” Duffy said.

By shrinking the stomach and bypassing the first part of the small intestine, hormones manufactured by the liver and pancreas are reduced, which helps keep weight off, he said.

While surgery isn’t for everyone, it is necessary for many people with a high Body Mass Index. “For people in that weight range the success of diet and exercise plans is about 5 percent,” said Duffy. Gastric bypass surgery, on the other hand, has an 85 percent success rate “as far as long-term sustained weight loss,” he said.

“For patients who have type 2 diabetes . 80 percent of them become cured,” he said.

Some insurance plans, including the Connecticut health exchange, will not cover the procedure, which Duffy said is short-sighted because of the costs of treating the diseases associated with obesity.

Jessie Moore, an advanced-practice nurse and program manager for bariatric services at Yale-New Haven, said the program goes beyond surgery.

“It’s a team effort so we have dietitians, social workers, an exercise physiologist and a psychiatrist,” Duffy said. The five-surgeon team performs 600 surgeries a year, he said.

The unit also has a new “sim suit” that helps the staff understand what it feels like to be morbidly obese.

“We use this as bariatric sensitivity training,” said registered nurse Bethany Mulone. “We had every staff member put the suit on. . We wanted to deliver compassionate care to this patient population.”

The staff also has to be careful when lifting and moving patients. The unit is equipped with a “sky lift” to assist the staff. “We can help maneuver the patients out of the beds with this equipment,” said Karen Nicolas, assistant nursing manager.

Moore said an obese patient’s leg can weigh as much as 70 pounds.

“We started looking at that a couple of years back and saw that the higher proportion of injuries resulted from lifting issues from patients that were obese,” she said.

The rooms are bigger too, “so the patient won’t feel claustrophobic,” Nicolas said. Often, obese patients have family members who are large too, so the amount of space is important.

Virginia Cavallaro, administrator of support services, had the surgery three months ago and called it “life-changing.” ”My energy level has skyrocketed,” she said. “My blood pressure has dropped considerably.

“I have arthritis in my back and for the last 20 years I would start my day with ibuprofen,” Cavallaro said. Since her surgery, “I don’t have back pain anymore.

“I lost 30 pounds prior to the surgery and I’ve lost 35 since,” she said. While she wouldn’t reveal her weight, Cavallaro said, “I have a goal and I truly believe that I’ll reach that goal.”

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Information from: New Haven Register, https://www.nhregister.com


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