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Bariatric Surgery Makes a Life-Changing Difference for Grateful Patient at Texas Children’s Hospital

June 27, 2023

Texas Children’s shares a young woman’s story of hope and healing to celebrate its nationally accredited bariatric surgery program.

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Azia Griffin-Colbert

When Azia Griffin-Colbert stepped onto her scale last week, she could not believe her eyes.

“When I looked down and saw that I’d lost 35 pounds, I jumped for joy,” said Azia. “Literally. It’s an amazing feeling to know that I’m putting in all this work and it’s paying off. I’m so excited.”

Azia, a 19-year-old girl from Detroit, Michigan who moved to Houston when she was 12, received bariatric surgery at Texas Children’s Hospital The Woodlands in April. Weeks later, her progress has been remarkable. 

“I feel amazing,” Azia said. “I’m walking better, I sleep better. For the first time in years, I’m excited about my future.”       

A lifelong struggle

Azia can’t remember a time when she wasn’t overweight. “Eating has always been a very big part of my life,” she said. “I grew up in a family where food is how they expressed their love, so I was overfed as a child. By the time I was 9, I was severely overweight.”

In fact, by the time she was 17, Azia weighed more than 400 pounds.  

“That’s why I wanted the surgery,” Azia said. “I’m 19 years old with high blood pressure and diabetes – do I want to spend the rest of my life like that? Do I want to go another 20 years feeling like an outcast and not loving myself and being unhealthy and not being able to climb a flight of stairs without losing my breath?”

Azia spoke about the daily frustrations that are often overlooked in public discussions about obesity.

“There are a lot of things that are just not talked about,” she said. “A simple thing: going to a restaurant. If you’re seated at a booth, it can be a real problem. The table doesn’t move and you can’t breathe because you don’t fit. Or, when I was a kid, my aunt would drive me places, and when I’d sit in her car, it would sink so much that she couldn’t open the door without it scraping on the curb.”   

The anxiety of fitting into airplane seats when traveling or the need to replace bed mattresses every three months because they would cave in – these were challenges that Azia lived with for years.  

“It’s these little things that can really frustrate you,” Azia continued. “Not to mention joint pain, sleep problems and serious health issues. I didn’t want to spend another 19 years like that. I knew I would rather go through this diet, the discipline of working out and following their strict regimen at the bariatric center – and, ultimately, to go through the pain of surgery – than to live like this any longer.”

Misconceptions about bariatric surgery

Bariatric surgery is not a quick fix. For a minimum of six months prior to surgery, patients like Azia work with a team of clinicians at Texas Children’s to determine the best option for their sustained weight loss. They undergo a series of lab tests, sleep studies, X-rays and ultrasounds, in addition to attending regular appointments with medical specialists to assess their food logs and evaluate their daily eating habits.

This multi-disciplinary approach includes:

  • Evaluation by many different specialists to review all aspects of a patient’s health
  • Support from a dietician and social worker throughout the process
  • Access to a monthly Bariatric Resource Group for more preparation and education prior to surgery

At the six-month mark, patients and their teams will work together to decide if they are ready to proceed with surgery.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about bariatric surgery,” said Azia. “People say ‘you’re taking the easy route.’ That is absolutely not true. The things we have to go through, both before and after surgery, it’s not easy. I put in months of work – had to lose weight just to be eligible for the surgery.”

But the misconceptions persist, unfortunately. “My mother even asked me, ‘Why can’t you just go to the gym?  Why can’t you be more active?’  I told her that I was active, even before the surgery, as part of the program. I was riding my exercise bike four times a week – I still do that. But the weight that I’m losing now, post-surgery, compared to the weight I was losing before surgery while also being active…it’s drastically different. Before? I’d barely be able to lose five pounds in weeks. Now? I’m already down 35 pounds in less than five weeks!”   

Lifelong health and wellness

The goal of the Bariatric Surgery Program at Texas Children’s Hospital is to promote lifelong health and wellness in adolescents through effective, lasting weight loss. More than 20% of adolescents in the United States are overweight and many suffer from serious health conditions associated with obesity – conditions like Azia’s, which included diabetes, high blood pressure and sleep apnea.

“It’s amazing to see the transformation in these kids, both physical and psychological, as they go through the program,” said Dr. Shawn J. Stafford, Associate Chief Surgical Officer at Texas Children’s Hospital The Woodlands who performed Azia’s surgery. “Our program is centered around addressing the complex needs of adolescents, dealing with the pressures and issues that are specific to that age group. At this age, the damage to their organs related to obesity is not yet irreversible. We actually have a chance to give them a fresh start and a future free of chronic illness associated with obesity.”

“Dr. Stafford is amazing,” said Azia. “I was very emotional on the day of my surgery because I was there all by myself – I wasn’t able to have my mom or my grandparents with me. But he made sure I was ok.”

Texas Children’s Hospital The Woodlands is the only Bariatric Surgery Center in the state that caters to an adolescent-only patient population with a clinical staff who is certified to meet the surgical, medical and psychological needs of adolescent bariatric patients.

Since 2004, Texas Children’s has performed more than 200 weight-loss surgeries, putting the Bariatric Surgery Program on the national map and helping patients lose more than 50% of their excess weight, improving their overall health.

“Texas Children’s Hospital has positioned us to be able to change the lives of these teens with surgery in a sustained and impactful way,” said Dr. J. Ruben Rodriguez, Attending Surgeon with the Pediatric Surgery Service at Texas Children’s Hospital andMedical Director of Trauma at Texas Children’s Hospital The Woodlands “Seeing the positive effects on our patients firsthand has been especially rewarding.”

One regret

For Azia, the future is looking bright. “I’m so happy to be on a healthy path. I’m now able to walk to and from work more comfortably. Even just getting out of bed has become way easier. Standing off the couch has become easier. Day-to-day is easier. I would do the surgery all over again. It’s been hard. It’s been tough. But it’s also been amazing, and I wouldn’t change anything.”

She paused, thought for a moment and added, “The only thing I regret about the surgery is not doing it earlier.”

Learn more about the Bariatric Surgery Program at Texas Children’s Hospital The Woodlands. To schedule an appointment with the Bariatric Surgery team at Texas Children’s Hospital The Woodlands, please contact the program at 936-267-7333.