Andrew Grossman from Southfield overcame major health and lifestyle challenges when he underwent bariatric surgery.

Featured Photo Courtesy of Tony Simler

Before Andrew Grossman, 45, of Southfield underwent gastric bypass surgery, he had to overcome a whole host of health, environmental and lifestyle challenges.

For one, as a 41-year-old, he was close to 400 pounds, had high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and was coping with a MRSA infection, all while running the Bread Basket Deli restaurant in Madison Heights.

Then he had a heart attack. For him, it was the final wakeup call he needed to make a change in his life.

“I was on a mission,” he said. “I had to lose weight.”

Grossman, who is Jewish, was already enrolled in Beaumont Weight Control Center’s bariatric surgery preparation program. He didn’t allow the heart attack to shelve his surgery plans forever. Two years ago, he underwent gastric bypass surgery, a procedure that shrinks the size of the stomach to the size of a golf ball and gives it the capacity to accommodate about four ounces of food.

“When I first started (the surgery preparation program), I was 380 pounds and I’m now at 260 to 270 pounds,” he said. “I went from a 54-inch size waist to a 36-inch waist.”

He said the surgery required him to be in the Intensive Care Unit for five days and that recovery, all told, took about two weeks.

“I didn’t have a bad surgery,” he said. “I had a little bit of soreness. I still had hunger, but it wasn’t over-the-top hunger.”

For Grossman, more than anything else, he had to change his environment and how he thought about food. He took a year off from running his restaurant to avoid the abundance of food and the amount of pop he was used to drinking. He stopped going to fast-food restaurants and stopped eating fried foods.

“I was just living to eat, not eating to live,” he said. “I was totally doing it backwards. The hardest part is figuring out what to eat. Instead of buying candy, I now eat quinoa. It’s a lifestyle change.”

Andrew Grossman at 380 pounds before his bariatric surgery. He is pictured here with his late father Saul and his son, Daniel. Elayne Gross

Not only has Grossman lost weight, he has reversed his high blood pressure, no longer takes insulin to control his diabetes and no longer experiences back or knee pain. In fact, his wife, Donyella, joined him on his weight-loss journey and has lost about 40 pounds herself, following his diet changes.

Kerstyn Zalesin, M.D., director of Bariatric Medicine at Beaumont Weight Control Center, said gastric bypass surgery is appropriate for people who have more than 100 pounds to lose and, like Grossman, have “perilous” comorbidities like high blood pressure, diabetes or a heart condition.

“Andrew is a very typical candidate for gastric bypass surgery,” Zalesin said. “I certainly do prefer to find these patients before these conditions come up, to head them off, so to speak.”

However, she said that some people find it too difficult to exercise because of their excess weight. And some people who have tried dieting find it too difficult to do on their own.

In addition to the gastric bypass surgery, Beaumont also offers the gastric sleeve surgery, which is very popular with patients, according to Zalesin. Beaumont surgeons perform about 700 gastric sleeve surgeries each year in contrast to about 150 gastric bypass surgeries. Beaumont also offers the lap-band surgery, approved in 1991, but do very few of these operations.

“I do feel people feel that it’s easier to wrap their heads around gastric sleeve surgeries,” Dr. Zalesin said. “A lot of patients seem to prefer the sleeve at this time.”

In gastric bypass surgery, surgeons divide the stomach into two sections, forming a small pouch that serves as the “new” stomach. This limits the amount of food a person can eat. It also gives a feeling of fullness and satisfaction with smaller food portions. A part of the small intestine is also bypassed, limiting food and caloric absorption.

In gastric sleeve surgery, about 85 percent of the stomach is removed and is reconstructed to look like a sleeve. Unlike gastric bypass, the sleeve procedure does not entail malabsorption of calories and nutrients.

Zalesin said gastric bypass surgery is a very involved surgery and difficult, though not impossible, to reverse. The gastric sleeve surgery is irreversible.

She said that patients undergo a full psychological evaluation to make sure they understand and are ready for bariatric surgery. Patients also work with nutritionists and other medical staff to help them after their surgeries are complete.

“Our patients need to make lifestyle changes if they want to achieve their greatest weight loss and permanent weight loss,” Zalesin said. “These procedures are not a cure. They are positioned as a tool.”

As tools, bariatric surgeries can significantly reduce a patient’s risks of coronary artery disease and mortality rates due to diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, cholesterol levels and cancer, according to Zalesin.

“It’s a little bit of a paradigm shift from internal medicine,” she said. “This is a shift because we’re talking about remission from medications. This makes the practice (of bariatric medicine) super joyful.”

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