Irenita James

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It’s hard to enjoy life when you’re feeling unhappy and out of energy. Add in joint and back pain with poor sleep at night, and day-to-day tasks become even harder. Extra weight was causing health and emotional challenges like these for Irenita James, so she decided to take action and do something serious about it.

At her highest, Irenita weighed about 225 pounds, and her small 5’1” frame struggled to support the extra weight. “I was unhappy. My back always hurt and I had bad sleep apnea,” she said. “I couldn’t walk far distances because I got out of breath easily. I didn’t like to take photos of myself with my family. I was feeling miserable and had no energy.”

Irenita had tried various diets and weight-loss attempts over the years, but nothing worked for her to lose a lot of weight and keep it off. “Years ago, I tried eating cayenne pepper with honey in lemon water for seven days as one way to try to lose weight. I also tried laxatives, but realized it wasn’t a healthy option. Liquid diets left me feeling like I was starving myself,” she said. “I would lose some weight but then later regain it.”

After a friend of her family had weight-loss surgery, Irenita went online to do research and learn more about surgery options. She found an online support group that was a good resource. “I had a lot of questions and wanted to educate myself,” she said. “I did lots of online research and talked with my primary care physician, who suggested that I see Dr. DuCoin at Tulane.”

Tulane Medical Center’s bariatric surgery program offers a comprehensive plan to care for patients before, during and after weight-loss surgery to safely achieve weight-loss goals. Each patient meets with a dietician to plan out meals and snacks that will meet their nutritional needs and help their weight-loss journey. Many patients, like Irenita, undergo a sleep study to determine the quality of their sleep and how their breathing impacts it.

“Before I had surgery, I needed to try to lose weight for about six months prior,” she said. “I had a meal plan and exercise routine, so I was able to lose some weight to prepare for surgery.” She said she felt ready to commit to a new lifestyle that weight-loss surgery would require.

In December 2016, bariatric surgeon Dr. Christopher DuCoin performed a sleeve gastrectomy, or gastric sleeve, procedure on Irenita. This procedure created a smaller stomach that is still connected to the intestines, so it limits how much she can eat and possibly decreases appetite due to less gut hormones.

Irenita had a good experience while in the hospital. “The nurses and doctors were nice and explained what was happening. I didn’t have to stay there long. I quickly regained strength and was able to get up and walk around,” she said.

After surgery, Irenita had to immediately change her eating habits. “The first week was complicated, because it was something new,” she said. “The first six months weren’t easy.”

Irenita learned how to get in the necessary protein and vitamins. One option she likes is to blend frozen fruit with protein powder into a shake. Now she eats more smoothies and liquids than solid foods, which she feels gives her more energy and keeps her from feeling bloated.

She joined a gym and exercises regularly. She does weight training to try to tone lose skin and build muscle. “I still have to exercise and weight train in order to reach my goal weight,” she said.

Nine months after surgery, Irenita has lost 57 pounds and has 32 more to get to her goal weight. “Now I can jump rope and stand on my feet longer at work. I can run around with my nieces and nephews. I can breathe better, and my sleep apnea resolved so I get good sleep now,” she said. Undergoing weight-loss surgery has been life-changing for her. “I don’t regret anything about surgery. I can run and I feel free!”

Irenita has advice for others considering weight-loss surgery. She suggests, “You’re the one to go through this journey. Do what’s best for you and be consistent.”