Life before surgery
When it came to losing weight, Michelle had tried everything, with little to no success. Her thyroid condition (Hashimoto’s disease) compounded the issue: her underactive thyroid sapped her energy, making it harder to lose weight. Before the surgery she had plantar fasciitis that caused heel pain that made walking difficult, and severe gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) that prevented her from eating many healthy foods.
(We’re happy to give you a spoiler, here: the plantar fasciitis and GERD were resolved thanks to her surgery with Dr. Oliak!)
As the mother of 3 children, Michelle wanted to have energy to play with her kids. “I didn’t want to be the mom who was too tired to go to the park. I wanted to have energy and also feel confident about putting on a bathing suit to go swimming with my kids. I wanted to be the mom my kids deserved.”
Things changed when an out-of-state friend of hers had “fabulous” results from weight loss surgery. “Watching her gave me the kick in the butt I needed.”
Finding the right weight loss surgeon in Orange County
Michelle began researching the many different weight loss surgeons in Orange County. She did Google searches and joined Facebook groups to read about people’s experiences. Then she interviewed all—yes, all—of them.
“There are a lot of different doctors and practices here in Orange County. In some of those practices, you don’t get to pick which of their doctors will be your surgeon. They pick your surgeon for you. No thanks. A lot of the other surgeons only meet with you twice, during the first consultation and then on the day of surgery. Otherwise you’re handed off to a PA and never see the doctor again.”
The consultation with Dr. Oliak was different. “He was the first doctor who I felt a real connection with. Unlike the others, he didn’t have a canned presentation for me. He listened to my questions and answered them. He wasn’t trying to get me to sign up for surgery with him. He wanted to make sure I got what I needed.
“Dr. Oliak was the farthest from my home, but it was an easy decision. He was clearly focused on me and providing me with great care.”
Together, Dr. Oliak and Michelle decided that sleeve gastrectomy (also known as vertical sleeve gastrectomy, VSG, gastric sleeve, or simply sleeve) would be the right weight loss surgery option for her.
Michelle's gastric sleeve surgery
Michelle’s surgery took place at Placentia-Linda hospital, where Dr. Oliak is the Director and Chief of their accredited COE bariatric surgery program. That accreditation means it’s met the highest standards for bariatric surgery. High-quality patient care, service, and outcomes are paramount.
Michelle raves about her experience at Placentia-Linda. “In addition to Dr. Oliak being amazing, the hospital where he performs his surgeries gives his patients special treatment. There wasn’t a lot of waiting around like most hospitals and everything was so easy. Check-in was super quick and easy—I was brought to the surgical suite immediately. They bring you to your room right after surgery. That wing of the hospital is nice and quiet, and the nursing staff was so nice and efficient. Getting an IV was so easy. They had a great protocol for infection control. I can’t say enough about how professional and pleasant the entire experience was.”
While some weight loss surgeons operate out of outpatient surgery centers, Dr. Oliak believes that weight loss surgery must take place in a hospital. Why? “A hospital is the safest setting for weight loss surgery. If issues arise, the hospital already has all of the staff on hand to help.”
You might remember one of Michelle’s issues was severe GERD. For that reason, prior to surgery, Dr. Oliak sent her for a test to find out if she had a hiatal hernia. The test was negative. But during surgery he discovered that not only did Michelle have a hernia, it was a big one. Dr. Oliak was able to repair the hernia and do the gastric sleeve surgery at the same time.
“Repairing my hernia completely resolved my GERD. Reflux had been a big challenge for me! It had really limited what I could eat: no red sauce, no Mexican food (this is Southern California! I love Mexican food!), no chocolate. But...white food didn’t bother me. So I ate a lot of pasta and cheese and that definitely contributed to my inability to lose weight prior to the surgery.”
With Michelle’s gastric sleeve and repaired hiatal hernia, she was well positioned to attain a new, healthier weight.
Recovery and support for Michelle
Most weight loss surgery patients are on a strict liquid diet after surgery. For Michelle, this was extra important because of the hernia repair so the stitches could heal.
“Once it’s time to switch to solid food, Dr. Oliak personally gives you lessons on how to eat and how much to eat. He has a tiny, doll-sized fork and plate and the cutest plastic food, to demonstrate how small the bites and portions should be, and what food I should or shouldn’t eat. He encouraged me to find a tiny fork and plate so I wouldn’t overeat.
“Other doctors and practices have you join a class with 30 people in them. Dr. Oliak meets with you one-on-one. It was much more personal and I was able to ask whatever questions I wanted without feeling embarrassed.”
Life after surgery
At the time of this writing, Michelle is two years post-op and has lost 84 pounds. And yes, she feels like she is the mom her kids deserve: ready to kick their butts in a water gun fight.
“Wearing a bathing suit and being in the pool with my kids is fun now. The other day I was playing laser tag with my twins, and one of them said, ‘I can’t believe I’m playing laser tag with my MOM!’ They’re young enough that they’re excited about it.
“Before surgery, I never would have wanted to play laser tag, because I would have gotten so tired. But now, THEY’RE the ones who are tired by the time the game is over!”