Since she was a kid, Amber Salisbury, 37, had struggled with her weight. She tried losing weight in many ways, popular weight loss programs, the gym, B12 injections paired with weight loss medications, personal trainers.
“Periodically, I tried any and everything possible,” she says.
Amber had another challenge – polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS. One of the most common causes of female infertility, PCOS affects 6% to 12% of American women of child-bearing age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The relationship between PCOS and overweight is unclear, but between her PCOS and her genetics, Amber wasn’t successful losing weight through any of those efforts.
In 2020, she contacted the UPMC Weight Management Center in Carlisle, Pa. She started seeing Melanie Gillman, CRNP, for non-surgical weight loss at the Alexander Spring office in Carlisle. Melanie provided counseling and also prescribed phentermine, a prescription medicine that can help with weight loss by suppressing the appetite. Amber wanted to try a non-surgical route to weight loss, and at first she was successful. She lost about 70 pounds while taking phentermine and exercising, getting to a weight of about 205 pounds.
But then in November 2020, she had a seizure and tested positive for COVID-19 at the same time. She saw a neurologist in the Emergency Department at UPMC Carlisle, who attributed the seizure to phentermine and recommended she stop the medication. She did so, and by January 2021, she had put on 20 or more pounds.
“I was at a loss,” Amber says.
Amber had her consultation for bariatric surgery in March 2021 after she was referred by Melanie. She was looking forward to it, she says, because she knew that bariatric surgery could have a positive result with patients with PCOS. Other weight loss measures aren’t as successful.
The other main reason for going ahead with surgery was she and her husband, Brandon, who live in Mechanicsburg, Pa., have an embryo in storage. She wanted to be as healthy as she could be when they were ready to embark on the pregnancy.
“I knew I needed to be as healthy as possible for this baby,” she says. “My main objective was to be healthy to start the process of getting the embryo transferred.”
Amber and Brandon already have a son, Leo, who turns 5 in November. He also was an IVF baby. Amber was in the 230-pound range when she got pregnant with her son. The day she gave birth, she weighed 274. Before deciding to move ahead with bariatric surgery, Amber says, she checked with everyone. While she would have a high-risk pregnancy regardless, the consensus was that having a higher body-mass index would present a higher risk than being post-bariatric surgery.
On the day of surgery at UPMC Community Osteopathic in August 2021, Amber says, “I was stoked.” She had gastric sleeve surgery, a procedure that removes part of the stomach and creates a new, tube-shaped stomach or "sleeve." Justin Rosenberger, MD, performed her surgery. While the recovery was rough, she says, she has a high tolerance for discomfort.
In August 2021, the month of surgery, Amber weighed 259 pounds. Now, about 15 months later, she is about 145 pounds. She has lost about 44% of her starting weight.
Secrets to Success
“I’m a rule-follower, so I followed the rules to a T,” Amber says.
That was frustrating before surgery when she couldn’t lose the weight, but it has paid off since the surgery.
“I’ve given myself parameters. I know every now and then it’s OK to have some things we weren’t allowed to have right after surgery.”
She also works out. She, Brandon, and Leo like to walk outside when the weather is nice. She also likes to work out to YouTube fitness videos.
She also credits the support system of the UPMC Weight Management Program, the UPMC Pinnacle Facebook support group, and of her “surgery sister,” who had surgery the same day as Amber and with whom she has become close friends.
“I was in it to win it,” Amber says.
Note: This patient's treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.