Chris Z A Tale of Two Weight Loss Surgeries

"The weight came off quickly ... people can't get over the change"

About 10 years ago, Chris Zieniewicz, 59, was struggling with severe back pain. The former forklift operator from South River had trouble walking, and he became sedentary. Over time, he gained more than 200 pounds and started avoiding social gatherings, movies, and travel. At one point, he had an MRI of his spine and was dismayed to discover that, at more than 500 pounds, he was considered “morbidly obese.”

Ragui W. Sadek, MD
Ragui Sadek, MD

Several years later, Chris came down with a virus so severe he went to the Emergency Department at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH). To his surprise, he discovered he’d had a heart attack. “I decided I didn’t want to live like that anymore,” he recalls. His doctor introduced him to Ragui Sadek, MD, FACS, Director of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery at RWJUH and Clinical Assistant Professor of Surgery at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

Shrinking the Stomach

In January 2016, Chris saw Dr. Sadek, who told him he was a good candidate for bariatric surgery but needed to lose weight. “At 575 pounds, I was too heavy for the surgical equipment,” he recalls.

His goal was to lose 75 pounds before the surgery, which was scheduled for July.

He joined the RWJ Fitness & Wellness Center bariatric program, which caters to people who are planning to have weight-loss surgery. Chris worked out in a group training session four times per week. He walked on a treadmill, rode a stationary bike, and lifted light free weights. After each session, he swam in the pool.

When he started the exercise program, he had to use a walker. By the time he finished, he had lost 75 pounds and could walk down the hallway without stopping.

Chris also followed Dr. Sadek’s advice to change his diet.

“I had two protein shakes per day and one meal with a snack,” he recalls.

His meals were heavy in protein and light in carbohydrates. “The longer I stuck with the diet, the easier it became,” he recalls. Dr. Sadek recommends protein shakes because they “curb appetite and decrease calorie intake,” he says.

In July, Chris had a sleeve gastrectomy, in which about 80 percent of the stomach is removed, leaving a small “sleeve” about the size of a banana. The surgery helps people feel full after eating small amounts of food and causes gut hormone levels to drop, which curbs hunger.

“It was the best operation for Chris,” says Dr. Sadek. “Other surgeries require more time under anesthesia, which can be risky.”

The procedure went well, and by Christmas, Chris’s weight had dropped to 450 pounds.

After that, though, the weight loss slowed. Gradually, his weight began creeping up again.

“I went back to Dr. Sadek,” he says. “I was embarrassed. I thought I must have done something wrong, and I felt like I had let him down.”

Dr. Sadek recommended another surgery called a single-anastomosis duodenal ileal bypass. With this procedure, a portion of the stomach is removed to create a smaller one. Then, a large part of the stomach is bypassed so that food empties into the last segment of it, resulting in less absorption of calories and nutrients. The procedure offers the most weight loss of any surgeries. Since the procedure prevents fat absorption, the person must take the fat-soluble vitamins A, E, D, and K.

A Robotic Procedure

Siddharth Kudav, MD
Siddharth Kudav, MD

In December 2019, Chris had the procedure, which was performed robotically.

“The robot is a wristed instrument with four ‘arms,’ as opposed to two ‘arms’ for a standard laparoscope,” says Siddharth Kudav, MD, a bariatric and metabolic surgeon at RWJUH. “It allows us to work in tight spaces and manipulate tissue better. It was helpful when operating on Chris, who had a lot of scar tissue and a thick abdominal wall.”

Robotic surgery also offers the surgeon better visualization because it’s guided by three-dimensional imaging.

RWJUH was one of the first hospitals in New Jersey to perform robotic bariatric surgery. RWJUH surgeons perform about 1,000 bariatric procedures each year, and at least 200 cases are done robotically, says Dr. Sadek.

Chris recovered well. Since the procedure, he’s lost more than 100 pounds.

“The weight came off quickly,” he says.

At 360 pounds, he can climb stairs more easily and has more energy. Once he reaches his goal weight of 250 to 280 pounds, he’d like to start traveling again. He recently posted before-and-after photos of himself on Facebook, and “people can’t get over the change,” says Chris, who looks forward to resuming his favorite activities.

“I used to have a motorcycle, but I sold it,” he says. “Now I’m thinking about getting another one. I feel good.”

Learn more about the Bariatric Surgery Center at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital or contact us to make an appointment today.