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More than 100 pounds lighter, VCU Health bariatric patient is encouraging others to change

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Ciara Logan. (Photo credit: Leslie Hartz)

When Ciara Logan gave birth to twin girls five years ago, she weighed 313 pounds. Standing just 5’ 6”, her weight and height combination categorized her having severe obesity.  

Her blood pressure reading was way too high — 200/108. A healthy blood pressure reading is below 120/80. As the mother of toddlers, she did not have the energy to take her children to the park or enjoy indoor museums without losing her breath.

Then, motivated by the shock of her doctor’s deadly prognosis, she had an epiphany.

“My doctor told me if I didn’t get a grip on my hypertension, I would have a stroke by the time I was 35,” Logan said. “I thought, ‘Oh no. I’m too young to stroke out. My mother is not going to bury me.’”

So, as a 30-year-old mother of three, Logan began researching medical procedures to help jumpstart her weight loss and motivate her toward a healthier lifestyle. Her exploration led her to the VCU Health Division of Bariatric and Gastrointestinal Surgery.

Logan went through a rigorous, six-month program that included dietetic and lifestyle changes, as well as counseling from a multidisciplinary team. On Aug. 13, 2015, she had laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy surgery at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center.

Now 129 pounds lighter, the Richmond native prioritizes her health by exercising daily, eating healthy and setting attainable goals. She credits much of her success and her newfound knowledge about maintaining a healthy lifestyle to her experience at VCU Health.

“My patient experience was what I would call one for the books,” Logan said. “I was shown nothing but professionalism throughout the entire process. I was introduced to and fell in love with Dr. Gretchen Aquilina as my surgeon. I really think we could be best friends.”

VCU Health Weight Loss Surgery - Ciara Logan Story

Patient-centered care

Aquilina and three other fellowship and board certified surgeons are part of a multidisciplinary team of nurses, nurse-practitioners, dietitians, endocrinologists, gastroenterologists, physicians and other specialists who care for bariatric patients like Logan. VCU Medical Center and the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU have the state’s only accredited metabolic and bariatric surgery centers for both adults and adolescents. Both entities are accredited as a Comprehensive Center by the American College of Surgeons Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Accreditation and Quality Improvement Program, to care for adults and adolescents with clinically severe obesity.

The division’s most recent office space is at the VCU Health Neuroscience, Orthopaedic and Wellness Center, just outside Short Pump Town Center in Henrico County. Other locations are the Ambulatory Care Center in downtown Richmond, VCU Health at Stony Point and Forest Clinic.

Guilherme M. Campos, M.D., FACS, FASMBS, is a renowned expert in the field, is chairman of the Division of Bariatric and Gastrointestinal Surgery and the Director of the VCU Surgical Weight Loss Center. He leads the surgical team composed by Aquilina, James G. Bittner and Jennifer Salluzo. The comprehensive care that patients receive along with the hospital’s private rooms for patient recovery, state of the art operating rooms and equipment make VCU Health one of the safest, respected options for bariatric care, he said.

“All our division members — surgeons, office staff, dieticians, nurses, and all other medical and health allied colleagues — are focused on delivering exemplary and patient-centered care, and dedicated to providing exceptional customer service for obesity and metabolic diseases,” he said.

Obesity As An Epidemic 

More than one-third of Americans are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Additionally, obesity-related health conditions, like heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, are leading causes of preventable death.

Obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in juveniles in the past 30 years. Obese youth often transition into obese adults who suffer with the emotional and physical toll of being overweight. That’s why interdisciplinary health care teams that include dietitians and health psychologists are critical to the overall care of patients, said Jill Ginnetti Meador, bariatric program coordinator for the VCU Surgical Weight Loss Center.

“We offer support groups and monthly newsletters for all patients with access to team members and continued education,” she said. “Dietitians are on site at all office visits so patients can have one-on-one assessment of their diet and receive individualized recommendations.” 

Logan vividly remembers the personalized attention she received as a patient. 

Dr. Aquilina was always so nice to me. She really had and has my best interest at heart.

“Dr. Aquilina was always so nice to me. She really had and has my best interest at heart. She gets mad at me, too, which is a good thing,” Logan said. “When I had my surgery, she asked me if I wanted her to administer my gas or hold my hand. I told her, ‘I want you to hold my hand. I need to see your eyes.’”

Aquilina describes her relationship with Logan as twofold. The pair sees each other routinely as part of Logan’s follow up visits at the Stony Point facility.

“We are supportive in a friendly and encouraging way. I want to be her support in guiding her on her journey through her weight-loss surgery and working toward obtaining better health,” Aquilina said. “One of the things that make her story so special is not only how successful she has been, but also her husband made changes with her. He lost a significant amount of weight just because he encouraged her to eat healthier.”

Long-term reciprocity

Logan continues to make her success reciprocal for others. She is active in online communities that promote healthy lifestyle changes and posts pictures of her food choices. Her efforts post-surgery are what make her success story so well rounded, Aquilina said.  

“Surgery alone doesn’t do it. Surgery is only an empowering tool and you have to use the tool to get the results. Surgery has not only helped with her blood pressure, but she's a whole different person. She’s healthy … and she’s proud of the good, healthy choices she’s making.”  

The division is ready to help more patients like Logan achieve goals and optimum health. Faculty members excel in academia and on statewide platforms.

VCU Health received a Women’s Health 2016 America’s Best Hospitals for Bariatric Surgery Award. Campos was recently named the 2016–2017 vice president of the Virginia Bariatric Society and will serve as the society’s president in 2018–2019. He has authored or co-authored over 100 peer-reviewed articles and chapters in books, has performed live surgery demonstrations at five national meetings, and has presented his work at more than 150 national and international meetings. Aquilina received the 2015–2016 VCU Medical Student Teaching by Faculty Award, which is given by medical students.

“Being an academic and a research institution, we are diligent in our efforts to be innovative, evolving and immersed in the subject of bariatrics not just within our division, but amid state and national initiatives on the subject,” Campos said. “Our thorough knowledge is critical to the continual care of our patients.”

At the onset of treatment, Meador said, the goal is to make the effects of surgery long-lasting.

“Great care is taken in ensuring patients entering the program are thoroughly educated in how to care for themselves and achieve lifelong success after surgery,” she said.