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How One Woman’s Weight-Loss Surgery Helped Her Save Her Father’s Life

New Jersey resident Diane Juliano could have never predicted the victories that would follow her successful weight-loss surgery and management.

When Diane Juliano underwent weight-loss surgery in 2015 with bariatric surgeon Dr. Louis Balsama, she had no idea it would help save her father’s life nearly five years later. What was initially intended to improve her overall health–especially her hypertension–also ended up making Diane the perfect kidney donor.

“So many benefits came from having weight-loss surgery, but if you would’ve asked me then if I thought I’d ever be able to donate a kidney, I probably would have said no,” said Diane, 45, of Barrington, NJ. She lost more than 70 pounds within the first year after her surgery, and she’s successfully maintained her weight ever since.

Diane standing with her father after their transplant surgery

Diane with her father after their successful transplant surgeries.

In late summer 2018, Diane’s 65-year-old father, Charles Macho, was–unfortunately–diagnosed with end-stage renal disease (kidney disease). He started dialysis right away, but desperately needed a kidney transplant to live a longer, healthier life.

Diane and her stepmother jumped right into the donor process, first figuring out whether or not they were good matches. Her stepmother was ineligible, but Diane was found to be a match. She didn’t hesitate to become his donor.

“There was no questioning it,” said Diane. “I knew I would do whatever I could to help my father get better.”

It took a few months to complete all the lab work and tests needed to ensure minimal risk of complications to the donor. In addition, Charles himself needed to be screened to become eligible for the transplant.

Studies have shown that a healthy weight supports better outcomes–and fewer surgical complications–following transplantation, for both the donor and the recipient. This is because a Body Mass Index (BMI) greater than 30 (considered obese) is linked to higher risks for infection, poor wound healing, and kidney rejection.

So, Charles followed in his daughter’s footsteps and underwent bariatric surgery as well.

Diane with her father prior to surgery

Diane with her father on his 65th birthday, one week before their surgeries.

After losing around 75 pounds, he and Diane moved forward with the surgery. Unfortunately, the father-daughter duo ran into another hurdle, as COVID-19 pandemic restrictions caused a postponement for several months. During this time, Charles and Diane did everything they could to stay healthy.

By September 2020, the transplant surgery was done, allowing Charles to come off of dialysis. Now, just a few months later, Diane and her father both feel great and live life to the fullest.

While each person’s experience is unique, Diane urges those who struggle with their weight – and for whom diet and exercise have not been successful, to consider bariatric surgery. Keep in mind, weight, weight-related health problems, and insurance considerations are all key determinants in bariatric surgery qualification. (To learn more about candidacy, click here.)

“Weight-loss surgery is a tool that aids in an overall lifestyle change,” Diane said. “It’s not like the ‘yo-yo’ and fad diets that nearly everyone who struggles with their weight has tried time and time again…you have to make permanent adjustments, such as being more mindful of what you eat and staying physically active on a daily basis.”

It was the first surgery she had in her life, and while she was admittedly a little nervous, she doesn’t regret it one bit. “It’s been a life-changing experience,” she said.

Typically, after weight-loss surgery, pounds will fall off quickly; it’s getting through the plateaus and long-term weight maintenance that takes hard work and determination.

Diane says one of her biggest post-surgery challenges was adjusting her portion sizes and realizing that her stomach simply couldn’t fit as much as it used to. Some of Diane’s personal tricks, which may not work for everybody, include watching her carb intake; having protein-rich snacks handy at all times; staying hydrated, and getting her steps in. She’s also kicked her soda habit.

“I have learned to listen to my body,” added Diane. “If I really crave something, I have it, but I always reflect on whether or not it’s worth it–and nourishing enough–to have more.”

With the holidays just around the corner, Diane expects to indulge a little more than usual and just make up for it in the following weeks.

She still weighs herself a couple of times a week, but primarily pays attention to how her clothes fit and how she feels, overall. One of Diane’s greatest non-scale victories–aside from donating her kidney, of course–was getting back into her favorite pair of “skinny” jeans.

“Dr. Balsama has a bedside manner that’s next to none. Not only is he an excellent bariatric surgeon, but a wonderful doctor. My bariatric coordinator Kathy McKeever and bariatric nurse manager Christine Arroliga helped me navigate through everything quickly and seamlessly. I can’t thank everyone enough for helping me through this life-changing experience.”

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