For years, Greg and Susan Gray struggled with health issues related to their weight.

After hormonal therapies for endometriosis caused Susan to gain weight in her 20s, she tried unsuccessfully to lose her pregnancy weight through dieting. She would lose a few pounds, gain them back, and lose them again. Nothing worked to keep it off.

She was eventually diagnosed with diabetes, which made weight loss even more difficult. Medications for diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol were necessary to treat her health issues.

Greg’s weight was on a rollercoaster for the last decade, and he reached his heaviest at 315 pounds. Then a Type 2 diabetes diagnosis in 2002 required medications that ultimately stopped controlling his blood sugars and required insulin treatment. For the next eight years, he and his endocrinologists tried over a half dozen insulins and other medications with small successes and high prices.

Susan was the first to consider weight-loss surgery at the suggestion of her primary care doctor and a consultation with Dr. Alexandra Zubowicz, medical director of the Bariatric Surgery program at Novant Health UVA Haymarket Medical Center.

“Dr. Zubowicz is an experienced surgeon and valued partner,” said Dr. Nicholas Dugan, bariatric surgeon at Novant Health UVA Health System Prince William Surgical Associates. “Working in tandem with Dr. Zubowicz and all of our experienced team ensures our bariatrics patients have a fully supported weight-loss journey.”

Throughout her childhood, Zubowicz’s parents encouraged her to eat healthy and stay physically active.

“It’s critical to adopt healthy practices at a young age,” she said. But many people haven’t been afforded the opportunity to begin life this way. This can lead to a downward spiral into medical complications related to obesity. “Genetic changes in childhood set the stage for what a person’s weight will be like for the rest of their lives.”

Coming from a long line of doctors, Zubowicz always had a medical career in mind, and at first thought she would pursue trauma surgery. But that involves frequent middle-of-the-night calls that need immediate attention; Zubowicz wasn’t convinced that was for her. And although she knew she wanted to be a surgeon, she realized one aspect of it wasn’t quite what she expected. When a patient comes for surgery, there is often a pre-op visit, the procedure, the post-op visit, and that’s it. Afterward, patients move on with their lives.

Zubowicz wanted a deeper and more fulfilling relationship with her patients. In bariatric surgery, the process includes a long preoperative phase, and afterward the surgeon and the patient are in life-long contact.

“With other surgeries, you fix the problem and that’s it. But this is a long-term relationship,” she said. “With this surgery, you can have the best of both worlds in medicine.”

Weight-loss surgery is “minimally invasive,” Zubowicz said. “It’s incredible how much one can do with a few tiny incisions.”

In almost no time, the overall quality of the patient’s life improves dramatically. She hasn’t seen anything else in medicine that reverses medical problems so quickly and helps people lead longer lives. Zubowicz wants to reduce the lack of knowledge associated with how weight loss surgery is prepared for and performed today.

“The surgery basically jumpstarts the process,” Zubowicz said, and it helps tools such as diet and exercise be more effective. “Many people don’t know how safe it is, don’t know it’s an option, and don’t know it is available right here in the area.”

Luckily for the Grays, their doctors suggested the procedure and encouraged them to consult with Zubowicz.

After three months of nutrition counseling, psychiatric evaluations and pre-surgery procedures, Zubowicz performed Susan’s surgery in December 2019 at Novant’s Haymarket hospital. Not long after, Greg got serious, too. He lost 25 pounds during the pre-surgery process and Zubowicz did his surgery at Novant on his birthday. “It was the best present ever,” he said.

Within a week of her surgery, Susan was able to stop taking her diabetes and blood pressure medications and three months later, she ditched her cholesterol medicines, too. Greg has reduced all of his medications, rarely takes insulin, and within the next few months should be able to stop taking all of his prescriptions.

To date Susan has lost 80 pounds. “I feel 20 years younger and have so much more energy,” she said.

Greg has met and surpassed his goal of getting down to 220 pounds

“I have more energy, less overall body pain, and no more achy joints,” he said. “The hardest part is buying a whole new wardrobe.”

This article originally appeared in the January issue of the Haymarket/Gainesville Lifestyle Magazine, published by InsideNoVa.

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