Nutrisystem®. Jenny Craig®. The South Beach Diet®. Weight Watchers®. Medifast®. You name it, Sabrina had tried it.
At just 13 years old, Sabrina had already exhausted the endless list of weight-loss diets and programs that had promised her “real” results. And to her ever-deepening frustration and despair, nothing was working.
That’s not to say that Sabrina didn’t work the hardest she could to live the happy and healthy life that she so fervently dreamed of. Sabrina led an active life from a young age, enjoying physical and artistic activities such as competitive dancing, acting, singing, cheerleading and lacrosse. But despite her passion for staying active, her weight gain had far outpaced her efforts.
When Sabrina was only two years old, she began to gain weight rapidly. Although her parents vigilantly monitored her diet and exercise, her annual physicals revealed continual weight gain at a terrifying rate. She developed insulin resistance that only made it more impossible to lose the weight.
As she got older, she enlisted the help of personal trainers and nutritionists. Exercising relentlessly, Sabrina would visit the gym before and after school with her mother and experiment with the most rigorous workout routines she could find. But the emotional and psychological tolls that the condition took on her were far too deep.
“Other students would throw food at me, call me names, berate me in the hallway,” Sabrina recalled. “I was suffering from anorexia and bulimia. I had done everything in my power to not get like this. My body was eating me alive; it was taking my career, my love, my dream, my passion away from me because I couldn’t go on to do anything because of how large I was. It was unappealing to the eye.”
With a family history of obesity and heart disease, Sabrina said she knew that she was facing a death sentence. So when one of her family members lost 210 pounds after a bariatric surgery procedure, Sabrina latched on. Calling and visiting doctors and surgical care centers all across the East Coast, Sabrina attempted to initiate conversations about the possibility of weight loss surgery. But instead of providing the quality health and surgical care she needed, doctors refused to schedule consultations and dismissed any hopes she had for change because she was too young.
When she finally found Evan Nadler, M.D., Director of the Bariatric Surgery Program, at Children’s National, Sabrina couldn’t believe her eyes.
“He seemed like such a cool guy and all he wanted to do was help children like me,” she said.
Less than two months after her first inquiry to the program by phone, Sabrina traveled to Children’s National in Washington, D.C., for her first consultation and began the yearlong process toward surgery.
In July 2013, after making many specialist visits, Sabrina weighed in at 215 pounds and underwent a sleeve gastrectomy.
“The staff at Children’s National was amazing. I asked so many questions and I was scared because I’d never had surgery before. Everybody was very warm and welcoming. Dr. Nadler came and saw me multiple times beforehand and assured me everything was going to be alright,” said Sabrina.
Her recovery was speedy and thorough; Sabrina started walking the day she got out of surgery. She lost five pounds every week for the first several months; after that, she continued to lose weight at a slower pace.
With the proper nutritional counseling and a strict observance of her advised regimen after the operation, Sabrina shed 100 pounds in total.
Looking back, Sabrina admits that making the decision was not the easiest. “My mother often wondered if she was a bad mother for doing this with me. And what we ultimately came to realize is that we both want for me to live the life I should live: a healthy life. And if we’re taking the necessary steps to do that, then in no way, shape or form is this the wrong decision. The surgery changed my life. I wouldn’t be alive today. I wouldn’t be as happy as I am. I’m living my best life and none of that would have been tangible for me without Dr. Nadler and Children’s National.”
Now, 20 year old Sabrina has already graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and is pursuing her Broadway dreams as a classically-trained singer, dancer and actress in New York City. And although nearly five years have passed since the procedure, the life-changing decision she made has stayed with her.
Recently, Sabrina met a mother whose daughter weighed 215 pounds at just 13 years old. Just like Sabrina and her mother, they were desperate for change and could not find doctors willing to undertake their case. Immediately, she shared her own experience with Children’s National and recommended that they visit Dr. Nadler.
One of the biggest problems with bariatric surgery for adolescents is the stigma, according to Sabrina, and the misguided belief that weight can always be lost with diet and exercise. “I think it’s a mentality of people from a different generation. What they don’t understand is that there was nothing I could do. It’s not just the food.”
“I feel and look fantastic. I am beautiful. I’m healthy and I’m happy and I’m doing what I want to do – what everyone told me I couldn’t do. I’m no longer the way I was because of Dr. Nadler,” Sabrina said.