With Determination to Get Healthy and the Help of Bariatric Surgery, Amy Menginie Has Her Life Back
“I was always a chubby kid,” shared Amy Menginie, a composer and music instructor in her 30s. “I always struggled with my weight, and it only got worse as I got older.” Over the years, she tried everything: Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, nutritionists, and gym memberships. “I wasn’t lazy,” she continued. “I was swimming two hours a day. Twice I lost 80 pounds by exercising and watching what I ate. But then I would fall off the wagon and gain back the weight and more.”
One morning, Amy woke up in excruciating pain. Her legs had swollen up to twice their normal size. “It felt like my skin was going to burst,” she explained. Amy was diagnosed with lymphedema, which is swelling due to a fluid buildup in the body. It is often caused by lymph node removal or damage from cancer treatment. “In my case,” Amy said, “it was due to my weight.”
Hitting Rock Bottom
Because of the lymphedema, Amy could no longer continue her usual activities. “I was soon up to 610 pounds,” she shared. “I was essentially homebound. I couldn’t drive a car; my father had to help me get to appointments.” Eventually, Amy had to file for bankruptcy. She said, “I lost my job and my apartment. I was at my lowest possible point.”
Amy continued, “I told myself that I had only two options: continue as I was going and die or choose to do something to live. I chose to do something.”
Amy hoped that she could get better on her own. Through Overeaters Anonymous — a 12-step program, Amy learned that the first step was to deal with her situation. “I first sought medical help for my lymphedema,” she said. “But I soon realized that I also needed help to lose weight.” That’s when Amy started considering bariatric surgery.
Meeting With Dr. Tohamy
Amy learned about the treatment options available to her through her Medicaid coverage, which led her to Dr. Aley Tohamy, Director of the Bariatric Surgery Program at Crozer Health. Amy shared, “Surgery was a very scary thought. But Dr. Tohamy helped ease my mind with his high level of knowledge and experience. In addition, he is so nice, friendly, and down to earth. I felt that he genuinely cared about me.”
To give Amy the best chance of a successful outcome, Dr. Tohamy proposed a two-part surgical plan. Amy explained, “First, I needed to lose weight on my own to show my commitment to getting healthy. Then, he would do the first procedure, called a gastric sleeve — a less risky surgery than gastric bypass. Finally, if all went well, Dr. Tohamy would do the gastric bypass.”
“Amy's care plan was unique, as she had a BMI above 100 which is not a common situation,” Dr. Tohamy explained. “I had to tailor the plan in the form of stages. First, we had to study her health extensively and then help her lose weight medically. After achieving a safer weight allowing her to be placed under general anesthesia, we proceeded with the sleeve gastrectomy to achieve initial weight loss. Then, after a year, we converted the sleeve gastrectomy to gastric bypass to maximize the weight loss.”
After explaining the procedures in detail, along with the risks and possible complications during surgery and recovery, Dr. Tohamy asked Amy, “How do you feel about this plan?” Amy realized then how much she wanted Dr. Tohamy’s help. “I knew that I was making a life-changing decision; there was no turning back,” stated Amy.
“Amy was an excellent candidate for bariatric surgery and qualified because of her willingness to embrace a new lifestyle and healthier choices of food,” said Dr. Tohamy. “Without Amy's patience and commitment, we wouldn't be successful with her weight loss and getting her to control her medical comorbidities.”
Gastric Sleeve Surgery
Amy lost 70 pounds. She explained, “I set my mind to making smarter food choices. I had a daily food plan and drank my fluids. I made a complete food and lifestyle change.”
At their next visit, Dr. Tohamy was impressed with Amy’s progress and was confident that she had a plan in place to succeed. In March 2020, Amy had gastric sleeve surgery. Through six small incisions in her abdomen, Dr. Tohamy created a banana-sized tube or “sleeve” from a portion of Amy’s stomach.
With her stomach now about one-tenth of its original size, Amy felt full sooner and longer. “I lost 200 pounds during the year following the first surgery. By April 2021, I was ready for gastric bypass surgery.”
In April, Dr. Tohamy performed Amy’s gastric bypass surgery. During this procedure, the size of Amy’s stomach was made even smaller (about the size of an egg.) Dr. Tohamy also rerouted, or bypassed, part of the digestive system. This procedure was longer — about one and a half hours. “This surgery was harder on my body, and the recovery has been more difficult than the sleeve procedure,” Amy recalled.
Because the stomach is even smaller and the digestive system has been rerouted, Amy’s body absorbs fewer calories and nutrients. It also further reduced the amount and rate at which Amy can eat and drink.
Amy worked with nutritionist Kaitlin Masciantonio to ensure she was getting adequate nutrients. Amy explained, “I have to consume at least 80 grams of protein and drink 64 ounces of water daily. Also, I follow a strict vitamin and mineral regimen. It’s very important for me to follow my care team’s guidance. If not, my health could be at serious risk.”
Getting Her Life Back Again
“During my recovery, I started walking laps in my house — whatever I could do,” Amy explained. “Then I started walking outside. Now I can get on a treadmill!” Amy is now exercising three to four times a week and has recently driven a car again. She shared, “About a week ago, I went to the beach for the first time in eight years — in a bathing suit! I was able to walk 8,000 steps in one day, and I rode a bike for the first time in a long time. There’s been a lot of firsts since the surgery. This has given me my life back.”
Amy has now lost over 300 pounds. She stated, “I’m still recovering and losing weight. My lymphedema is still there, but it’s much better. I thank God every day that I have had no complications.”
Along with Dr. Tohamy and Kaitlin, her nutritionist, Amy also worked with physician assistant Harry Guarino. Amy said, “I’m so grateful to my amazing care team at Crozer Health.” Amy gets choked up when she talks about Dr. Tohamy. She shared, “Whenever I see Dr. Tohamy, I tell him how grateful I am, and he tells me, ‘But you’re doing the hard work.’” Amy continued, “Dr. Tohamy is a very humble guy. I can never thank him and his team enough for their care and expertise.”
Keys to Success
As she continues to recover, Amy’s body is getting used to the foods she can and cannot eat. “There are certain foods I can’t eat right now, or I will get sick. It will take time for my body to adjust,” she explained. “I listen to everything Dr. Tohamy and his team tell me to do.”
“I am extremely proud of Amy because of her perseverance and her commitment to reach her goals,” Dr. Tohamy said. “She is a smart woman who made her health and wellbeing a priority. Losing that amount of weight gave her confidence in herself and her abilities to do more with her life.”
Amy wants anyone considering bariatric surgery to understand that this is not the “easy way out.” She said, “Gastric bypass is a big deal. It’s major surgery and irreversible. They’re changing your insides.” Amy continued, “You have to be totally committed; you have to put forth the effort every day to get healthy. Determination, consistency and following my care team’s advice are the keys to my success. It’s been life-changing.”
Before being disabled, Amy taught music in school. Since her weight loss, she has started teaching private piano and voice lessons. She is now able to go to students’ homes, which she is thrilled about. Amy concluded, “I feel amazing. I haven’t felt this good in a very long time. And I know it’s just going to get better!”
Learn more about Crozer Health’s Comprehensive Bariatric Surgery Program.