Dollinda Jorgensen
Dollinda Jorgensen credits bariatric surgery with a "second chance at life." Jorgensen underwent a gastric sleeve procedure in 2013 at UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center.
Credit: Sara Mota

Following her first bariatric surgery in 2009, Dollinda Jorgensen lost more than 100 pounds after receiving a lap-band. But she credits her second operation at UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center in 2013 – when a gastric sleeve replaced the lap-band – with “giving me a sense of control back in my life.”

And Jorgenson isn’t alone, thanks to SRMC in Rio Rancho, where UNM and ABQ Health Partners are teaming up to make the hospital the state’s premier bariatric surgery destination. 

“As far as I’m concerned, bariatic surgery saved my life twice,” Jorgensen said. “I never get tired of talking about it.”

In fact, Jorgensen – who at her peak weighed 254 pounds – likes talking about her experience so much, she’s something of a weight loss missionary.  A data coordinator at  ABQ Health Partners, she’s talked two coworkers into having the surgery, and she openly chats about what she eats and what her incision scars look like. She’s even happy to show the loose skin around her waist.

 “I don’t have the money for a tummy tuck,” she said.  “But even more than that, I really feel like it is something I should keep. I look at my stomach and it is a reminder of where I’ve been – and that I don’t ever want to be there again.”

Health problems were the final contributing factor in choosing a surgical solution, she said.

“I was always overweight.  At first, you fight to lose 20 or 25 pounds. Then it becomes a bigger size and an even larger size after that. I tried everything - fasts, diet pills, groups,” she said.   

Along the way, her health suffered and the list of obesity-related ailments grew. Huffing and puffing up and down stairs affected her knees. She was being treated for high blood pressure.

“Finally my doctor said, ‘you heart is in really bad shape. If you don’t get the weight off then you won’t be here for your children and your parents,'” she said.

In January of 2009, Jorgensen had a lap-band procedure. A small band was inserted to create a small pouch at the top of the stomach. The pouch would hold only about one-half cup of food compared to the six-cup capacity of a typical stomach. By Thanksgiving of that year, she had lost 80 pounds. Another 35 pounds melted away more gradually over time.

The lap-band success came with a price. As patients lose weight, their bands need adjustments, or “fills,” to ensure comfort and effectiveness. The gastric band is adjusted by introducing a saline solution into a small access port placed just under the skin. Insurance companies may begin to nix payment for continual adjustments.

Jorgensen also found that while she felt full quickly after eating, she never felt truly satisfied.

“I will never say anything negative about the lap-band surgery. It was the reason that I could take the weight off,” she said. “But weight loss surgery is not a quick fix. You think it is going to be because you are losing weight so quickly.”

In September 2013 Joregensen underwent her second “transformation” at UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center, where she had the lap-band removed and and underwent gastric sleeve surgery. The procedure involves the surgical removal of a portion of the stomach to create a "sleeve" that connects to the small intestine. Portals and adjustments become a thing of the past.

Being able to eat and feel satisfied, after four long years without the feeling of satiety was life-transforming again.

“It gave me back a sense of control that I had been missing,” she said.

The pounds falling off in the first few weeks and months following surgery are only the beginning of the journey, according to Jorgensen.

To achieve a sustained weight loss, patients must learn to choose healthy food options, limit food intake and volume, and get active, she said.

"It does feel like a second chance at life,” she continued. “I can hike with my family and play with my grandkids. It is true what when they say that nothing tastes as good as being thin feels.  I know I will never go back to that."