Brother’s wish: take care of yourselves first

12/2/2013

Two brothers have bariatric surgeries on same day, by same surgeon

Dennis Lazorka, a Westland resident, remembers when he weighed 464.4 pounds, “I won’t forget that number. I was disgusted. I was in denial.”

He was not alone. His brother Mike, of Plymouth, also weighed over 400 pounds.

In the spring of 2012, with their younger brother, Tom, dying of pancreatic cancer, Mike and Dennis offered to do anything to help his wife and family.

Dennis (left) and Mike (right)
collectively at 887 pounds.

Tom encouraged them to help themselves before making good on their promises and responded, “You need to get back down to your fighting weight.”

Dennis’ family physician was also concerned about his weight. He had told him he would not be alive at 65 if he didn’t lose weight.

Collectively, Mike, then 54, and Dennis, 56, weighed 887 pounds.

Mike recalled it was hard to hear Tom’s wish. In fact, “It was like a kick to the head.”

Tom, 51, lost his battle with cancer in April 2012.

Bariatric surgery?

Looking back, both Dennis and Mike explained, “We were embarrassed. We were angry and fat.”

Unbeknownst to Mike, Dennis began researching weight loss options on the Web. He found information on Beaumont’s Weight Control Center and attended a free bariatric surgery information session.

Mike was looking into what weight loss program would be approved by his health insurance. It coincidentally led him to Beaumont, too. Surprisingly, early on, neither one knew of the other’s intentions.

Team approach to weight loss

At different times, both brothers met with the Beaumont bariatric surgical team, comprised of medical, surgical, behavioral, nutritional and exercise experts. Later, Dennis and Mike discovered they both were pursuing bariatric surgery at Beaumont. After extensive education, health screenings, and counseling, they were accepted as candidates for bariatric surgery.

Denise Lee, D.O., a physician at the Beaumont Weight Control Center, says, “Bariatric surgery is a great tool that can help jump-start a new lifestyle. Our role as their medical team is to sustain long-term weight loss by reinforcing healthy habits for life."

They elected to have the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass procedure - on the same day, by the same surgeon.

Says Mike, “Before I did my research, I heard a lot of negatives about bariatric surgery. But the Beaumont team and the tone of the program were very positive.”

Dennis encourages anyone considering bariatric surgery to attend the free program, “Go. Listen. Ask questions. Your fear will diminish. They emphasize that it’s not a magic pill, but a lifestyle change.”

Six months after Tom’s passing, on Oct. 8, bariatric surgeon, David Chengelis, M.D., performed gastric bypass surgery on Dennis and then Mike. It was a first for Dr. Chengelis - two brothers having this surgery at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak on the same day.

Both surgeries went well, and “the brothers,” as their care team affectionately called them, recovered in a shared room.

Dr. Chengelis performed their procedures laparoscopically. This minimally invasive technique involves dividing the stomach and creating a small pouch, about the size of an egg. The pouch becomes the new stomach and restricts the amount of food one can eat. A portion of the small intestine is divided and attached to the pouch. This decreases the amount of calories that can be absorbed.

Following surgery, most patients spend one night in the hospital, with a 2-3 week recovery period at home.

Complication rates low, satisfaction rate high

The incidence of major complications - bleeding, blood clots and infection is about 3 percent. This compares favorably with many common procedures, such as colon, liver and pancreas surgery.

At one year, nearly 90 percent of Dr. Chengelis’ patients are happy they underwent bariatric surgery.

“The surgery is not a cure, but can be a powerful tool for change,” emphasizes Dr. Chengelis. “Combined with behavioral and dietary changes, patients finally regain control of their lives. They often lose 80 percent of their excessive weight in nine months.” 

“Sadly, there is a bias against overweight Americans,” says Dr. Chengelis. “Despite the excellent safety record of gastric bypass and the frequent resolution of not only the patient’s obesity, but often the resolution of diabetes, sleep apnea and hypertension, only 1 percent of morbidly obese people have the surgery. This is due to the lack of awareness by patients, doctors and insurance companies.”

“Most of my patients, like the Lazorka brothers, have struggled for years with denial and shame. As a surgeon, it’s rewarding to be part of an individual’s journey to create real change,” adds Dr. Chengelis. “Mike and Dennis are such good guys. They have great attitudes and are a true inspiration.”

Post-op and beyond

Lazorka brothers post bariatric surgery

Dennis (left) and Mike (right)
have collectively lost
nearly 400 pounds.

After bariatric surgery, Mike and Dennis learned to be flexible. Says Mike, “You take small steps on the road to recovery. You eat small amounts, slowly. And you get moving.  Both of us belong to a gym. Our medical team, including Drs. Chengelis and Lee, nurses, dietitians and exercise physiologists are there with advice and support. The care and follow-up is fantastic.”

“I look forward to the follow-up visits. I don’t have a scale at home,” explains Dennis.

Thirteen months after his surgery, Dennis’ waistline shrunk from 54 to 36 inches. He weighed 240 pounds. Mike too has had dramatic results, losing 167 pounds. Before surgery, he weighed 422 pounds and now, 255 pounds. Collectively they’ve lost nearly 400 pounds.

Dr. Lee says, “Mike and Dennis have made amazing progress. It’s rewarding to see exponential change in such a short amount of time. I'm excited to hear about the many new activities that both brothers are now able to do since losing their weight.  I am so proud of their success and improved quality of life."

Mike, now retired, says “I feel great. I don’t want to look back. This is the first time since high school I can wear fitted jeans. I’m the happiest person in the world. Now, even my son watches what he eats.”

Reflects Dennis, “This is the best thing I’ve ever done. My only regret is I didn’t do this sooner.”