Patient Stories

Lifelong Support for Bariatric Surgery Patient

Originally published November 1, 2021

Last updated May 3, 2024

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Brianna Villanueva, a bariatric surgery patient, stands on a hill in front of some trees

With help from her family and Keck Medicine of USC’s Bariatric Surgery and Weight-Loss Management Center, Brianna Villanueva is primed for a lifetime of better health.

Brianna Villanueva wanted change. She was starting to experience chronic pain — in her 20s. “I had been struggling with my weight for as long as I could remember,” Brianna says.

The extra pounds were contributing to the increasing health problems she faced, so she turned to her family for guidance. Because her sister and mother had each had success with bariatric surgery, Brianna went to one of Keck Medicine of USC’s regular patient seminars to see if she could get help managing her weight. 

Keck Medicine’s Bariatric Surgery and Weight-Loss Management Center provides these classes for anyone who wants to learn more about weight loss.

When Brianna came in for her consultation, Kamran Samakar, MD, MA, director of Keck Medicine’s bariatric surgery program, knew she was an excellent candidate.

“She was super motivated,” he recalls. “It’s always good when someone has family members who have had the surgery. They understand that this is a long-term process. They know the potential pitfalls, and the family members who have done this are a kind of built-in support system.” 

Preparing for bariatric surgery

Support and a long view are key to all the caregivers at the Weight-Loss Management Center.

“Success with weight-loss isn’t a moment. It’s a journey,” Dr. Samakar explains. “This isn’t just about a surgical procedure for us. We want to give our patients positive forward motion that lasts a lifetime.” 

In addition to having a supportive network of friends and family, Brianna had done a lot of important work: She was active and she had learned a lot about nutrition on her own. Dr. Samakar was impressed. 

Success with weight-loss isn’t a moment. It’s a journey.

-Kamran Samakar, MD, MA, director of bariatric surgery program

“She just had a few factors that were unfortunately holding her back, like a strong genetic susceptibility to holding weight,” Dr. Samakar says.

“It was like she was swimming upstream on her own. She just needed the additional help that surgery could give. Some people, if they’re already active, that first boost of losing 30 or 40 pounds puts them on a great positive spiral.”

Brianna dug in hard to get her mental and physical clearances for surgery. To make sure every patient has the best possible launch for success, the Keck Medicine program requires both before surgery. 

Bariatric surgery patient Brianna Villanueva sits at a table outdoors
Brianna Villanueva’s perseverance has paid off (Photos by Kremer Johnson Photography)

“Trying to change my habits slowly prior to surgery was the most difficult part,” she says. “I have struggled with anxiety and depression, and that had made it difficult to lose the weight.”

Brianna worked with her counselor and the Keck Medicine dietitians, then Dr. Samakar performed a sleeve gastrectomy, where a portion of the stomach is surgically removed. 

“That’s often a good choice because it’s a low-risk procedure,” Dr. Samakar says. “But it’s a personal choice for every patient. We look at your situation and your goals and see what works for you.” 

Long-term weight management after bariatric surgery

The surgery was a success, but Brianna’s journey wasn’t over. She continued to work with her own counselor and attended the bariatric program’s support groups.

Keck Medicine’s weight management program is unique in Southern California because long-term support, including lifelong annual check-ins with dietitians, is included in the cost of the surgery. 

That’s very much a part of the design, Dr. Samakar says.

“A lot of places, you’ll get hit with a ‘program fee’ for thousands of dollars. You don’t see that with us. We know that everyone needs the support for long-term health, so it’s built in.” 

Over the past year, I’ve learned to be kind and patient with myself.

Brianna Villanueva, patient, Bariatric Surgery and Weight-Loss Management Center

In Brianna’s case, she knew she was feeling relief from her chronic pain, but couldn’t see her progress. But her perseverance paid off.

Brianna has maintained a 60-pound weight loss — even throughout the pandemic — and though the journey has been challenging, she says she wouldn’t change a thing.

“Over the past year, I’ve learned to be kind and patient with myself. I can appreciate my body for what it is — not that I have lost or gained weight, but that it is. I have it, and it’s healthy.”

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Lex Davis
Lex Davis is a writer for the Department of Surgery.

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USC Health Magazine 2024 Issue #1

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