Vickie Newark jokes that she “should have had gastric surgery at conception.”
But her wife Linda wasn’t sold on the procedure. Not until she saw the dramatic impact it had on Vickie’s life — and decided to follow in her footsteps.
Both women work for UPMC in pre-arrival, verifying patient insurance.
Residents of Freeport, Pa., Vickie and Linda Newark met nearly 20 years ago in an online chatroom. Among the many traits they had in common: a love of food and lifelong battles with their weight.
Eventually, those traits would lead them to UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital’s Minimally Invasive Bariatric and General Surgery Program. There, they both had gastric bypass weight loss surgery two years apart with the same surgeon.
The night before Vickie Newark’s surgery in August 2014, her mother-in-law begged her not to have it, saying “we like you fat.”
But that didn't deter Vickie. She grew up in a family that loved food.
“When we were happy, we ate. When we were sad, we ate,” Vickie says.
She spent years dieting and going to the gym, watching everyone around her lose pounds while her scale never budged.
“Seven years ago, I lost my dad and brother within four months of each other due to heart problems,” Vickie recalls. “I had an epiphany. At 271 pounds, I was pre-diabetic and had high cholesterol. If I didn’t do something, I faced a similar fate.”
In December 2013, Vickie reached out to two Pittsburgh-area bariatric programs. The first to return her call was UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, where she met bariatric surgeon Giselle Hamad, MD.
“As soon as my wife Linda and I met with her, we knew I’d made the right choice,” says Vickie.
“One thing that really impressed us was how the Magee team treated us as a couple,” adds Linda. “We always felt welcomed and supported. The team fully included in me Vickie’s. They recognized that I had to be her cheerleader at every step.”
Vickie describes her results as life-changing.
“Before surgery, I had become increasingly dissatisfied with myself and hard to live with,” she says. “My self-esteem has since soared. I no longer worry about finding clothes that fit or squeezing into an amusement park ride. And I now don't worry about getting out of the back seat of a friend’s car. These are simple things. But when you’re overweight, they become part of your daily frame of reference.”
Nearly five years after surgery, Vickie has reached — and maintained — her goal weight of 158 to 162 pounds. She dropped from a size 26 dress to an 8/10.
“The transformation is as much mental and emotional as it is physical for me,” she adds. “Bariatric surgery changed my mind and soul, as well as my body. It saved my life.”
Unlike Vickie, Linda was the only one in her family with weight struggles.
“I was a mystery to them. They didn’t get what I was going through,” says the 55-year-old. “For years, food and I had a really great relationship. For a long time, I wasn’t ready for a divorce. But I realized I had to start eating to live — not living to eat.”
Two years after Vickie’s surgery, in August 2016, Linda had gastric bypass by Dr. Hamad. This time, her mother didn’t try to change any minds.
“After seeing Vickie’s success, my mom understood why I wanted the surgery and fully supported my decision,” Linda says.
Linda weighed 258 pounds at her first consult.
For six months, she tried to cut her food intake in half, following Vickie’s example. By the time of her surgery, she was down to 222 pounds.
“It was hard at first. You’re not really prepared to lose one of your best friends, which is the role food played in my life. But having gastric bypass surgery was the best thing I ever did. We’ve learned that it’s all about moderation,” says Linda, who has maintained her desired weight of 155 to 160 pounds. “When people see me now, they don’t even recognize me. I’m healthier and happier.”
Linda has high praise for Dr. Hamad and the support team that she and Vickie had at Magee.
“We know other bariatric patients outside of UPMC who didn’t have the same success as we did,” says Linda. “The difference is they didn’t have our team. No matter what our question or time of day, we knew we could call for help and they were there for us.”
Linda and Vickie are glad they could go through their weight loss journeys together.
“We like to say that since our surgeries, we’ve become cheap dates,” laughs Linda. “At the restaurants we frequent, our servers know to bring boxes for us to take our leftovers home. It’s a lifestyle change — and it’s one we’re both glad we decided to do together.”
Note: The treatment and results of these patients may not be representative of all similar cases.