Kelsey and Justin Downs were married in a historic building near their home in Santa Ana, surrounded by rustic charm, family and friends. After a romantic honeymoon in the Hawaiian Islands, they returned to their living room to pursue their joint passion: fighting orcs in Azeroth. World of Warcraft® and other virtual games are a favorite past-time for these self-described homebodies, but had it not been for their real-life battles with obesity, they never would have met.

Kelsey’s story

Growing up, Kelsey, seemed to gain weight no matter what she did. While everyone on her father’s side was thin, obesity seemed to run in her mother’s side of the family.

Her mother, aunt and cousin all had successful weight-loss surgeries, so Kelsey, who was pre-diabetic by age 19, was encouraged to explore surgical options. It was more than size at stake; it was her long-term health and quality of life.

In November of 2014, Atif Iqbal, M.D., F.A.C.S., F.A.S.M.B.S., bariatric surgeon and medical director of the Digestive Care Center at Orange Coast Medical Center, gave Kelsey a gastric sleeve, reducing her stomach to the size of a banana. The procedure was minimally invasive, requiring six tiny incisions and an overnight stay in the hospital.

Through the MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center’s comprehensive program, Kelsey was equipped with all the tools she needed to lose weight after surgery. The program includes nutritional and psychiatric counseling, as well as a support group for patients who have undergone surgery or are considering it. It was through this support group that Kelsey met the man who would end up to later be her husband – Justin Downs. Within the first year of her surgery, Kelsey successfully lost 130 pounds – but also developed occasional gastric reflux.

“Temporary gas and bloating commonly occur after a gastric sleeve,” says Dr. Iqbal. “Gastric reflux is not as common, but it does happen, and several studies have shown that the incidence of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can sometimes increase after sleeve surgery.”

As the months passed, medication did little to help her intensified symptoms. Kelsey returned to the MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center at Orange Coast Medical Center for help.

Then in October 2017, Michael Russo, M.D., bariatric, reflux and general surgeon, performed her gastric bypass. “The gastric bypass completely resolves GERD in 97 to 98 percent of patients,” says Dr. Russo. “During the procedure, we separate the lower part of the stomach, which produces the acid, from the esophagus, so there’s no chance of acid reflux.”

Justin’s story

At 21, Justin had high blood pressure, a predisposition to diabetes and an unreliable knee. By age 25, he weighed 360 pounds and worried about health complications waiting for him down the road. More importantly, he wondered what kind of father he would be if he couldn’t run around and play with his kids.

In 2015, Justin chose to move forward with weight-loss surgery, Mir Ali, M.D., bariatric and general surgeon and medical director of MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center, performed a gastric bypass on Justin.

“When a patient is carrying 100 extra pounds, they’re taking 10 years off of their life,” says Dr. Ali. “My goal is to give that back to them. Obesity-related conditions like high blood pressure, sleep apnea and diabetes are often fully resolved with weight loss.”

On average, gastric bypass patients lose 80 percent of their excess weight. Justin, who faithfully attended the MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center’s weekly support group, lost 200 pounds in his first year.

Commitment all around

Even though the couple’s weight loss journey slowed when they achieved a healthy weight, they continue to attend Orange Coast Medical Center’s support group sessions.

“The surgery and support group gave me a second shot at life,” says Justin. “We continue our involvement with the support group as a way to give back to a community that helped us reach our weight loss goals.”