Deanna Ulrich: Gastric Sleeve Surgery

A member of her track and cross-country teams during high school, Deanna Ulrich weighed just 100 pounds when she graduated in 1990.

Her weight struggles began when she first became pregnant at age 23. Over the years, she had 3 boys — and gained 160 pounds.

“I just kept adding on more weight,” says Deanna. “I tried different diets. But I’d lose weight, gain weight, lose weight, and gain it again. And each time I’d put on more pounds.”

A Lifechanging Decision

Repeated failed attempts to lose weight left Deanna feeling depressed. When her cousin underwent gastric bypass surgery — and maintained her impressive weight loss over several years — she began to consider it seriously.

“I wanted to be healthy,” she says. “I needed to do it for myself and my kids. I didn’t want to leave them without a mom.”

During a visit with her primary care doctor, Deanna asked him about bariatric surgery.

“He said I was a good candidate and it was a good option for me,” she says. “I trust my PCP.”

In October 2015, Deanna met with Anita P. Courcoulas, MD, director, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital Minimally Invasive Bariatric and General Surgery Program.

During six months of pre-surgery prep, Deanna met with a nutritionist who taught her how to eat healthier.

“For me, the big emphasis was protein, protein, protein,” she says. “I was surprised to learn about the many ways you can include protein in your diet. Options like smoothies with protein powder and Greek yogurt.”

From Couch to Marathon

Deanna UlrichA month after her surgery on May 4, 2016, Deanna began walking with a friend.

“Each day, we walked a little farther. By August, I was walking three to four miles a day,” she says. “The weight was falling off. I decided then if I keep losing weight, I’ll keep walking.”

In October 2016, Deanna and her friend signed up for the “Hell on Hills” 5K through their Beechview neighborhood.

“We were going to walk the hills and run the rest, but I started running and haven’t stopped since,” she laughs.

With her first 5K behind her, Deanna began running almost daily — “five miles here, five miles there.” She also started working with a running coach she met through her job as a loan origination processor at a Pittsburgh bank.

That May — a year after her surgery — she ran the 13.1-mile Pittsburgh Half Marathon with the Run to Cure CF team. She ran as a charity runner in honor of her 11-year-old cousin Aubrie, who has cystic fibrosis.

“I promised her I’ll keep running until there is a cure,” says Deanna.

Three years post-surgery, Deanna maintains her weight around 157 pounds. She's finished more than a dozen 5Ks, four half-marathons, and the full 26.2-mile Pittsburgh Marathon in May 2019.

Along with running, she cross trains with bike riding and strength training. She also works with a sports nutritionist recommended by Dr. Courcoulas.

Although her BMI is 26.9 (considered overweight), most of it is due to a higher percentage of muscle. By comparison, her pre-surgery BMI was 44.6. And her clothing size dropped from a 20/22 to a 6/8.

She no longer takes anxiety medicine — and she’s now engaged to her running coach. The couple plans to marry in October 2019.“If I hadn’t had that surgery, none of this would have been possible,” says Deanna. “Dr. Courcoulas gave me my life back. I feel awesome, and I feel healthy. Having bariatric surgery was the best thing I could have done for myself and my kids.”

Note: This patient's treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.

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