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Cindy Sodersten: Gastric Sleeve Surgery

Before and after picture of Cindy.Cindy Sodersten, 60, of Hopewell Township, Pa., had many reasons for having bariatric surgery, including high blood pressure, prediabetes, and arthritic knee and hip pain that was aggravated by her weight.

“How much bigger can I get?” she asked herself as she approached 400 pounds. “I can’t find clothes to fit me and I’m exhausted all the time.”

Her weight struggles began when she was teenager. Now the mother of a special needs daughter — and a bus driver for special needs children — she was determined to make a change. Her primary care doctor connected her with Bestoun Ahmed, MD, a surgeon and expert in minimally invasive bariatric surgery at UPMC Bariatric Services at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital.

Taking the First Step

At Cindy’s first appointment, they discussed her overall health and weight loss goals. Dr. Ahmed told Cindy she was a good candidate for gastric sleeve surgery. The procedure reduces the size of the stomach and restricts the amount of food someone can eat at one time, helping them feel full sooner. The surgery lasts about an hour and is done laparoscopically through several small incisions in the abdomen.

First, she had to lose weight before her surgery. So, Cindy started using a food-tracking app.

“I didn’t realize how much I was eating each day. I ate when I was upset, I ate to feel better, I ate to celebrate,” says Cindy. She eliminated flour and sugar — cookies, cake, bread — from her diet.

She also started moving more. “I walked short distances three times a day, every day,” she says. “It was hard because of my weight, but I did it.”

At the time of her surgery In July 2020, Cindy weighed 382 pounds. Nine months later, she weighed 268 pounds — a loss of 114 pounds.

Not Easy But Well Worth It

Cindy is upfront about the hard work it takes to stay healthy and continue to lose weight. She was on a high-protein liquid diet after surgery. When she started eating regular food, it was in very small amounts.

“I learned to eat protein first before anything else, then veggies, and maybe a bit of healthy carbs like a sweet potato or beans,” says Cindy. “Even though I might eat only two to four ounces of protein, I get full very quickly.

“At times it was a struggle, but there was always someone at UPMC Bariatric Services I could call,” she adds. Cindy says she received invaluable support and guidance from Tshona Smeltzer, Dr. Ahmed’s physician assistant (PA). “One time, I couldn’t keep any food down. I called Tshona and she helped me find a way to manage it,” says Cindy.

Determined to keep losing weight, Cindy began taking the medicine metformin, which may decrease appetite, in April 2021. That helped her get down to 208 pounds, but then she hit a plateau. Cindy stuck to her nutrition and exercise plan, but wasn’t losing weight. In March 2023, the bariatric team switched her to a different weight-loss medicine to get her back on track. This switch — and Cindy’s dedication to her health — got her down to 189 pounds.

Exceeding Her Expectations

Cindy’s own weight goal was 175 pounds.

“When I first met Dr. Ahmed, he told me he wanted me at 138 pounds. I Iaughed! I hadn’t been close to 138 pounds since I was a preteen,” says Cindy.

It turns out that Dr. Ahmed’s goal wasn't out of reach. Cindy now weighs 134 pounds.

Her weight loss has yielded a host of health benefits. Cindy stopped taking high blood pressure medicine about a month after surgery. She’s no longer borderline diabetic, and barely experiences knee and hip pain. She’s gone from a size 34 pants to a size 12. “Putting on jeans that were snug a few months ago and now I need a belt to wear them is always a good feeling,” says Cindy.

The mental health benefits are striking too.

“I had social anxiety because of my weight,” says Cindy.

“When I went out, sometimes people would stare and make comments under their breath. Now I’m amazed when people talk to me in the grocery store. And I’m more likely to start a conversation with someone — I never would have done that before I lost weight.

“I feel so much better. I have so much energy. I’m more outgoing. It's made a huge difference in my life,” says Cindy. “My only regret is I didn’t do it sooner.”

This patient’s treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.

Read more gastric sleeve surgery patient stories.