Kristena Rodriguez-Johnson struggled with maintaining a healthy weight most of her life. She tried every new diet and exercise plan, but nothing kept off the weight permanently.
"I would lose 40 pounds and gain 55 pounds," says Rodriguez-Johnson. "I was physically active at work and in my personal life, but I was still overweight."
Over the years, she developed high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
"I knew I had to do something because my health was only going to get worse," says Rodriguez-Johnson. "I didn't trust myself to keep trying diets and exercise to lose weight."
Rodriguez-Johnson is a certified nursing assistant at Sharp Memorial Hospital, where she cares for patients after weight-loss surgery.
"I became curious about the surgery, so I would ask questions; my patients were always willing to share their experiences," says Rodriguez-Johnson. "Caring for weight-loss surgery patients and working closely with the bariatric team inspired me to consider surgery."
Then, Rodriguez-Johnson's primary care doctor referred her for surgery. Before she could proceed, her medical insurance required Rodriguez-Johnson to have regular appointments with her primary care doctor; visit a dietitian and a counselor; receive an electrocardiogram (EKG), chest X-ray and blood tests; and provide documentation of her weight for six months.
Once approved, she decided to have a sleeve gastrectomy — a procedure that restricts stomach volume and food intake by greatly reducing the size of the stomach. Since having the surgery, Rodriguez-Johnson has lost almost 100 pounds and no longer has high cholesterol or high blood pressure.
She says her eating habits have drastically changed. Instead of craving processed food, she prefers to eat steamed vegetables and fish.
"I got my life back," says Rodriguez-Johnson. "My energy has increased, my self-esteem has improved and I am able to enjoy activities with my family."
Using her personal experience to connect with patients, however, has made the biggest impact.
"I have been in their place and know what they are going through," says Rodriguez-Johnson. "My patients helped me make the decision to change my life, so I want to help and encourage them."