12:28 PM

Safer Through Surgery: Bariatric Surgery and COVID-19


When Dave Briggs decided to get bariatric surgery in August 2019, he knew it would make him healthier, but he had no idea a pandemic was about to hit and how his weight loss would affect his recovery from COVID-19.

Getting healthy through surgery

Briggs' journey to choose bariatric surgery started with a consultation for another issue: A hernia reoccurrence with complications. When he met with his surgeon, Paul Cesanek, MD, general and bariatric surgeon with Lehigh Valley Institute for Surgical Excellence, Cesanek recommended that Briggs lose weight first.

“When you're fixing hernias, you want to do it right.” Cesanek says. “People with an optimal body mass index (BMI) have improved hernia repair outcomes.” Briggs discussed weight-loss options with Cesanek and decided that gastric sleeve surgery was the best option.

Since Briggs’ gastric sleeve surgery in August, he’s worked hard to lose 102 pounds. “My wife was my support person,” Briggs says. “I couldn’t have done it without her.” Through the weight loss, Briggs saw marked improvement with his health. He no longer had high cholesterol, high triglycerides, diabetes or sleep apnea.

As avid Disney fans and lovers of warm weather, Briggs and his wife, Barbara, travel to Florida in their motorhome every year. And 2019 was no different they headed south in October. As for what Briggs packed, he says, “When we left, I didn’t have any medications to take with me just my vitamins and my diet.”

The weight of COVID-19

As March approached, the Briggs packed their motorhome and headed home to Pennsylvania. After they arrived, Briggs began to feel ill and tested positive for COVID-19. “He was treated with conservative measures relative to what many people go through,” says Cesanek. “If he had been 102 pounds heavier, had diabetes and sleep apnea, he would not have been able to ride it out at home.”

Not only did Briggs recover quickly from COVID-19, he was able to have his hernia surgery at the end of May. During the surgery, Cesanek worked with LVPG plastic surgeon Randolph Wojcik, MD. Wojcik removed 4 pounds of extra skin on Briggs’ abdomen. “I feel like a teenager again,” says Briggs.

Safer through surgery

Metabolic/bariatric surgery has been shown to be the most effective and long-lasting treatment for severe obesity. In fact, recently the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) declared metabolic and bariatric surgery "medically necessary and the best treatment for those with the life-threatening and life-limiting disease of severe obesity."

Obesity increases a person’s chances for complications to COVID-19. An underlying condition in addition to a diagnosis like COVID-19 is considered a comorbidity. “A lot of younger COVID-19 patients who are experiencing complications are overweight,” Cesanek says. “They don’t realize they have a comorbidity, but obesity is a condition that causes a person’s body to produce inflammatory proteins that make it more difficult to recover when an infection occurs.”

“The weight loss is the best thing I could have done,” says Briggs. “It changed my whole life.”

Lehigh Valley Health Network has a bariatric program that will help you weigh the pros and cons of a bariatric procedure to decide if it’s right for you. To learn more, visit LVHN.org/weightloss.