Chip Estenes was well on his way to weighing 500 pounds. Then he made a decision that changed his life.
By Debra Bresnan
As seen in the March/April issue of Advancing Care
Francis “Chip” Estenes, 49, weighed 425 pounds when he made the decision to undergo bariatric weight-loss surgery at Bon Secours Community Hospital, a member of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth) in Port Jervis.
“I struggled with my weight for most of my life. I tried programs to lose weight but would gain back even more,” he says. “Weight was hindering my lifestyle and affecting my health. My joints ached, and I had chronic back problems and fatty liver disease. I saw myself going to 500 pounds easily.”
Following his doctor’s recommendation, Estenes called Bon Secours and, after soul searching, prayer and research, had a laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy, in September 2016. Seven months later, he ran his first of many 5K races that would follow.
“Before, I was always on the sidelines, cheering and thinking, I want to be one of those runners. Crossing the finish line brings feelings of joy, achievement and accomplishment,” says Estenes, who lives in Port Jervis with his wife, Kelley, and their rescue dog, Sally.
“Surgery is really a small part of the process. It’s not what makes a patient lose weight; it’s the tool with which patients can modify behavior and diet to achieve weight loss,” says Estenes’ surgeon, Peter Kwon, MD.
Estenes’ surgery — one of more than 600 bariatric surgeries the team at the Surgical Weight Loss Institute performs annually at Bon Secours Community Hospital and Good Samaritan Hospital, both members of WMCHealth — was performed at Bon Secours Community Hospital.
Under the leadership of Bariatric Medical Director Jaime Cepeda, MD, the Institute is accredited by the American College of Surgeons (ACS) and the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) and has received a five-star rating for excellence from Healthgrades, a leading online healthcare resource.
A prospective patient’s first step is to attend an in-person or online seminar, to engage with the full, multidisciplinary team — not just the surgeon. They then meet with the clinical team and receive instructions, including extensive preoperative evaluations for uncontrolled diabetes, cardiac issues, sleep apnea, psychiatric health and more, to ensure they are good surgical candidates.
The sleeve gastrectomy typically takes 45 minutes and is the most commonly utilized in three types of bariatric surgery. Most patients have a one-day hospital stay and return to work in two weeks.
Two misconceptions — that morbid obesity is caused by a character flaw or laziness and that bariatric surgery is the “easy way out” — are prevailing prejudices, yet neither is true, says Dr. Kwon. “There are significant genetic factors, and with easy access to plenty of empty calories and energy-conservation genes, people can get lots of mileage out of few calories. Our team is trained to be nonjudgmental and treat morbid obesity like any other chronic illness.”
And, he adds, due to the required dramatic lifestyle alterations, there’s nothing easy about bariatric weight-loss surgery. “Studies show that nonsurgical weight loss using diet, exercise and medication do not provide the same results long-term. Bariatric surgery is very safe and very effective, and for these patients, it is the only way. The average patient can expect to lose 50-60 percent of excess weight and maintain that long-term.”
“Chip was a very compliant patient, an ‘A‘ patient, who excelled above and beyond the average. He’s a diligent attendee of the support groups we offer, both before and after surgery, and is quite inspirational to others,” says Dr. Kwon.
Estenes, a caseworker for troubled youth and families, says these welcoming support groups made him feel like part of a family. “Becky [Aschoff, RN, BSN, CBN], who runs my support group, came to my first 5K run and was at the finish line, in the rain! If that isn’t support, I don’t know what is,” he says.
“I feel 1,000 times better, and it’s incredible — liberating, like a rebirth,” says Estenes, who by January 2019 weighed 215 pounds and admits he was surprised to lose more than 200 pounds in his first year following surgery.
To reflect his personal weight-loss journey, Estenes designed a special shirt.
“The back of the shirt has my name and the number ‘425.’ I tell people that the number is behind me and that is where the weight is always going to be.”
Estenes now enjoys bike rides, gym workouts and hiking. In fact, he’s an Ambassador for the Outdoor Club of Port Jervis, providing guided beginner hikes to the public in the Port Jervis Watershed Park Trails.
What’s next on Estenes’ journey? “Ziplining!” he says. “And, our support group wants to do a tandem parachute jump/skydive out of a plane. These events were always in the back of my mind when I was heavy. I would really like to experience them.”
Westchester Medical Center . . . . . . . . . 914.493.6567
MidHudson Regional Hospital . . . . . . . 845.431.8733
Good Samaritan Hospital . . . . . . . . . . . 845.368.5285
Bon Secours Community Hospital . . . . 845.858.7277
Photos by John Halpern