Rediscovering the Joy of Living

REDISCOVERING THE JOY OF LIVING

March, 2016

Mert Schulze learned about bariatric surgery by accident. During a routine medical visit in 2015, he caught sight of a brochure about a surgical weight-loss procedure, and he was intrigued. At 5’9” and 268 pounds, he knew he had a weight problem, but it never occurred to him that there was a surgical option that could help him resolve it.

More than a month went by before he decided to pick up a phone and make an appointment to see Dr. Alae Zarif, Medical Director of Surgical Services at Atlantic General Hospital and an eminent bariatric surgeon. But at that point, Mert confessed, “It was like a game I was playing, as if I’d lose weight just by making the appointment.”

Soon, he realized that preparing for surgery was serious business. Mert embarked on a 6-month journey that began with routine tests and a visit to the Bariatric Center’s dietitian, followed by a more demanding phase of lifestyle change. “I had a lot to learn,” he said, “from how to shop and cook to how to rethink the way I was eating. I had to take those first difficult steps—literally—and commit to regular exercise. And I started doing all these things months before surgery.”


Mert Schulze, Atlantic General Bariatric Center Patient


Angela Simmons, an experienced nurse practitioner who serves as Bariatric Coordinator at the hospital, described the Center’s approach as a process, one that takes a while to work. “The surgical procedure isn’t a magic bullet,” she said, “nor is it a cosmetic procedure. It’s a serious step that should never be taken lightly. From start to finish, the process can take a year and a half or even longer. People who want instant results are generally not appropriate candidates for our program.”

Gains and Losses

Asked who might be considered a good candidate for bariatric surgery, Angela explained that the criteria, set by the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery and the American Board of Obesity Medicine, center on a patient’s body mass index, or BMI. (BMI is calculated by dividing weight by height.) “To qualify for the surgery, a patient needs to be 100 pounds or more over his or her ideal body weight with a BMI of 40 or higher, or a BMI of 35 combined with severe obesity-related health issues such as high blood pressure or diabetes.”

Mert met the criteria.

“I wasn’t always overweight. It kind of crept up on me,” he admitted, recalling that his pants size went from 33 to a 46 over a period of 15 years. Earlier, he used to be an avid runner, a sport that helped him stay fit and keep his weight stable. Then, he had both knees replaced, and his running days came to an abrupt end. Little by little, the pounds came on.

“I gained weight, and I gained health problems,” he said. “I had trouble breathing, even with the slightest exertion. Wherever I went, I was always looking for a bench. Sure, I tried dieting—but nothing worked. The worst thing of all is that I sort of got used to myself. I forgot what life was like before the weight gain, and I didn’t even realize what I had lost: my self-confidence, my dignity, and my ability to enjoy life.”

Mert was born on December 7, 1946, but his real birthday, he said, is October 27, 2015: the day he underwent sleeve gastrectomy, a procedure that reduces the size of the stomach. During this particular weight-loss surgery, 75%-80% of the stomach is removed, resulting in an organ shaped like a banana. The procedure is highly effective for a couple of reasons: The new stomach is able to hold considerably less than the original one, helping to reduce the amount of food that can be eaten in one sitting. The surgery also has an effect on digestive hormones, which allow an individual to feel full for a longer period of time after eating.

Support groups, both before and since the surgery, have made all the difference, said Mert. “I’ve met many inspiring people in these groups—and now, I’d like to think I’m able to inspire others.” He planned to wear one of his old suits to the next meeting: “I look like a clown in that old suit now, but if it helps people see that the process works, I don’t mind looking silly!”

In real life, Mert looks anything but silly. He takes special pride in being able to tuck in his shirt again after years of being too self-conscious to do so.

In fact, he has always been his own worst critic. “My family never came down on me for my weight,” he said. “The three-letter “F” word was never said.”

Life to the Full

According to Angela, that harsh, judgmental word is never said at the Bariatric Center, either: “Here, we’re tuned in to the ways in which obesity is vilified in our society. We want to lift our patients up, not tear them down!” The Center’s climate of acceptance and support clearly enhances patients’ chances for success after surgery—success being defined as an average loss of 50%-60% of a patient’s excess weight. Mert met and then surpassed that expectation through a combination of grit, support, and a certain gift he has for enjoying life.

Now, instead of looking for the nearest bench, Mert enjoys going to the supermarket with his wife, treasuring everyday errands as opportunities for quality time. His walks on the Boardwalk, especially when accompanied by one or more of his four grandchildren, provide memorable moments to savor as well.

As for his plans, Mert is excited at the prospect of his next family trip to Disney World. Now, he can keep up with his grandchildren’s fast pace. Now, he can live life to the full.

Mert, who is retired from a successful career in the housing industry, used to love making things with his hands, and he has recently rediscovered that skill. “I’m planning to make a hutch for my wife,” he said, “and a train for my grandson, one with a little locomotive that he can ride around in, something he’ll have for his children and their children one day.

Angela described Mert as “down-to-earth, a guy who always wears a smile on his face.” The last time she saw him, he said, “Angela, you have no idea, you and Dr. Zarif saved my life.” She has no doubt that he meant it.

Do you want to take the next step? Register for the next free seminar by calling Atlantic General Bariatric Center at 410-641-9568 or take the webinar here.