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Gastric sleeve surgery patient sees brighter days ahead

Rachel Villanueva was not used to being on the receiving end of patient care.

As supervisor of the UT Health East Texas Physicians pediatric clinic on Fifth in Tyler, Rachel oversees the care of dozens of patients throughout the week.

But when it came to managing her own weight and overall health, she needed her doctors’ guidance.

“I have battled my weight for many years,” Rachel said. “Four years ago my OB/GYN diagnosed me with PCOS, which makes it difficult to lose weight,” she said.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition in which a woman’s ovaries produce an abnormal amount of androgens – male sex hormones that are usually present in women only in small amounts. This hormone imbalance in Rachel’s body worked against her efforts to lose weight with diets, exercising or even lifestyle changes. Nothing had worked for her.

To complicate matters, Rachel suffered a stress fracture in her back that wouldn’t heal. She was still able to walk around, but being overweight just made matters worse.

The “final straw” was during a business meeting at a nearby hospital. “I went to sit down and realized that the chair was too small. There was no way for me to sit comfortably during the meeting. I was embarrassed and miserable for the rest of the day, but it motivated me to think, okay, I’m done, it’s time to make a change,” Rachel said.

Rachel met with Dr. Charles Keith at the UT Health Tyler Bariatric Center and they talked about the benefits of bariatric gastric sleeve surgery. “It seemed like the best permanent solution for my busy lifestyle,” she said.

In gastric sleeve surgery, most of the left part of the stomach is removed, leaving a long narrow tube called a sleeve. Since the space inside the stomach is much smaller, a patient feels full after eating less food.

Rachel underwent the surgery in November 2021 but actually started to see some of the benefits of the bariatrics program before her surgery.

“When I first met with Dr. Keith, I weighed around 370 pounds,” Rachel said. “Then I started meeting with Jaden, the registered dietician and nutrition counselor in Dr. Keith’s office. Jaden helped me get on a better diet and by the time the surgery date arrived, I was down to 340. Jaden also helped me get in the right mindset after the surgery, such as how to make healthier food choices at home or even in a restaurant. Now it has been more than 6 months since my surgery and I weigh 244,” she said.

Rachel’s life goals do not include reaching a specific weight, but they do include specific things she wants to do.

“I basically want to see my three children have their children. I want to get off most of my medications, go to Six Flags with my children to ride all the rides without fearing that the buckles won’t buckle and even go to the high school graduation ceremonies and sit comfortably in the stands. I am much more comfortable in my own skin these days. This fall we are going on a cruise and I’m even looking forward to wearing shorts in public,” she said.

Rachel has high praise for Dr. Keith, Jaden, Charlotte and the rest of the staff. “Dr. Keith gave me back my life. I absolutely recommend the program and the entire team at the UT Health Tyler Bariatric Center to everyone,” she said.

For more information about the services offered at UT Health Tyler Bariatric Center, call 903-593-0230 or visit tylerbariatrics.com.