Dorian B Down 120 Pounds

“Dr. Patel was right—bariatric surgery isn’t cheating. It’s a head start. But afterward, you have to make healthy choices every day to make it work for you.”

For most of Dorian Bernard’s life, emotions and eating went hand in hand. “My family celebrated everything with food, and we cried with food,” says Bernard, 54, an Irvington resident. “I’d say yes to cakes, cupcakes and everything else. The only thing I’d pass on was the cardio.”

Those habits led him to a love-hate relationship with his weight, which fluctuated over the years. When his mom, Connie, developed blood cancer in 2017, Bernard became her primary caregiver. He began masking his sadness with food. That caused his weight to soar and his mood to sink, and left him exhausted.

Hemantkumar Patel, MD
Hemantkumar Patel, MD

His lowest point: when he saw his mother’s primary care physician, Hemantkumar Patel, MD, an internal medicine specialist at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center (NBI). By then, his weight had reached a high of 314 pounds.

“Dr. Patel said he didn’t even recognize me,” says Bernard. “He said to me, ‘You know, if you’re considering weight loss surgery, there’s a program here that can help.’”

In his heart, Bernard knew things had gone too far when simple activities like walking with his mother to her oncology appointment at the Frederick B. Cohen, MD, Comprehensive Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at NBI became difficult. “I’d walk with my mom, and I’d get winded. My knees would hurt,” he says. “That had never happened before.”

Even so, he resisted getting surgical help with weight loss. “At first, I thought I should lose weight ‘on my own,’” he says. “But Dr. Patel told me bariatric surgery isn’t cheating; it’s a kick start to help you change your life.”

Thorough Preparation

Alan Saber, MD
Alan Saber, MD

Bernard made an appointment with Alan Saber, MD, Director of NBI’s Bariatric and Metabolic Surgery program, who has performed more than 5,000 bariatric surgical procedures over his 22-year career.

The program includes a six-month preparatory period, during which participants get a full medical workup and psychological evaluation, attend monthly support group meetings and must lose a percentage of their body weight prior to surgery.

“For me, losing that first 15 pounds before surgery was the hardest part,” Bernard says. “I started by switching from soda to water, then I cut down my portion sizes.”

Dr. Saber recommended that Bernard undergo sleeve gastrectomy, a minimally invasive procedure that reduces the size of the stomach.

“Sleeve gastrectomy works through restriction,” Dr. Saber says. “You can only eat about one-third of what you used to eat before you get full.”

One of the biggest benefits of bariatric surgery is how it helps burn visceral fat, a type of fat that forms around organs like the heart, liver and kidneys, and isn’t visible to the naked eye.

“With bariatric surgery, you ingest fewer calories, so the body begins to burn that visceral fat,” Dr. Saber says. “That’s important, because visceral fat is associated with 35 related medical problems, including Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea and high cholesterol.”

Getting His Groove Back

In August 2019, Bernard underwent successful sleeve gastrectomy surgery, performed by Dr. Saber. About six months later, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and Bernard used stay-at-home orders to his advantage. He started picking up the exercise equipment he already had at home, including a treadmill, tension bands and weights.

“I’d sit on an exercise ball and do crunches while watching Wendy Williams as a way to work my core,” says Bernard, a freelance photographer who formerly worked as a producer for several daytime TV talk shows.

Once stay-at-home orders were relaxed, Bernard started running—and he hasn’t stopped. “Today, I can run two miles in 18 minutes—I’m killing it!” he says. He also adjusted his diet, with support from Andrea Jobst, MS, RD, Bariatric Nutrition Specialist at NBI. “She told me how I could mix peanut butter and dates, and it would taste just like a Snickers bar,” he says. “She was right. It’s one of my go-to snacks.”

As of January 2022, Bernard had lost 120 pounds. Even better, his self-confidence has soared. “My weight had stressed me out,” he says. “Now, when I’m feeling funky, I go for a run instead of running to a drive-thru.”

And he encourages others to follow his lead. “You have to want it,” he says. “Dr. Patel was right—bariatric surgery isn’t cheating. It’s a head start. But afterward, you have to make healthy choices every day to make it work for you.”

COVID-19: A Weight Loss Wake-Up Call

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, being obese increases the risk of developing severe illness and being hospitalized from COVID-19.

“So please lose weight if you need to,” says bariatric surgeon Alan Saber, MD. “It will improve your outcome so you can recover from COVID-19 should you get it.”

Today’s bariatric (weight loss) procedures are minimally invasive, creating shorter recovery times. “Our team at Newark Beth Israel performs sleeve gastrectomy safely in 45 minutes, and 98 percent of our patients spend only one night in the hospital,” Dr. Saber says. Some can even go home the same day.

In addition to sleeve gastrectomy, the medical center’s Bariatric and Metabolic Surgery Institute offers Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery and bariatric revision surgery. “Our complication rates are way below the national average, and we have excellent outcomes,” says Dr. Saber.

To learn more about weight loss surgery at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, call 973-926-7000.