Fit, Healthy Lifestyle Strikes a Chord with Musician after Weight Loss Surgery
Professional musician and educator Rey Ramirez compares his commitment to lose weight to the countless hours he's spent refining his musical skills.
"I know I'm not going to get better if I don't practice," says Rey, 42, who plays the French horn and co-founded Soundscapes, a nonprofit organization that uses music to build life skills in under-resourced students in Newport News. "It's not going to happen magically. There's no pill or mouthpiece that's going to make me better. It's the time that I put in. It's no different than with my health."
After battling weight loss ups and downs since his college days, Rey opted for a permanent solution with the help of weight loss surgery at Sentara CarePlex Hospital in Hampton. He's surpassed his goal, losing more than 100 pounds since the surgery in 2018.
Weight Loss Successes, Frustrations
The oldest of three boys, Rey describes mealtime when he was growing up in Los Fresnos, Texas, as a race to see who could get food first. At 5 foot, 5 inches, he graduated from high school in 1996 at 130 pounds, gradually creeping up to 210 pounds when he graduated from college in 2000.
While in grad school at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, Rey had undiagnosed sleep apnea and remembers waking up gasping for air. After feeling suffocated in an XL shirt, Rey knew he needed to make a change.
"I felt so defeated," says the husband and father of two. "There was that moment looking in the mirror that day when I said I have to do something."
That experience started years of different diets – Adkins, Weight Watchers, low calorie, lettuce and water. Rey would see his weight go up and down, but each time he would hit a wall. His body would stabilize at 170 pounds, and he would eventually grow frustrated and stop his routine.
In Dec. 2017 while shopping for a work trip to Los Angeles for his then 10-year-old son, Sammy, a TV and Broadway actor, Rey picked out a size 48 coat and wore a size 44-46 waist. From that moment, he vowed to find a permanent solution.
"Something had to drastically change," says Rey, who had been diagnosed with sleep apnea, fatty liver disease, high blood pressure and prediabetes. "I was slowly killing myself. I had to stop fighting it and decided to look into bariatric surgery."
Reaching Weight Loss Goals and More
Rey thoroughly researched weight loss surgery options on his own before seeing Sentara bariatric surgeon Dr. Thomas Clark, MD, bariatric program medical director at Sentara CarePlex Hospital. Rey chose the gastric sleeve approach, which:
- Removes 75% to 85% of the stomach, leaving it the size of a banana
- Limits the amount of food you can eat and leaves you feeling fuller sooner
- Reduces feelings of hunger
- Allows for normal digestion and absorption because food passes through the digestive tract in the normal order
After three months of working with a nutritionist and being cleared by a therapist to ensure he was ready to take on the new lifestyle required after surgery, Rey scheduled his surgery for July 10, 2018 at Sentara CarePlex Hospital. His wife Cynthia of 15 years was ready to encourage him and support him with the transition.
The hours following surgery were painful and challenging, but as time passed, Rey got used to his new stomach and life. At 224 pounds on surgery day, Rey dropped 30 pounds in the first month and fell to 114 pounds a year later.
"Dr. Clark said I might pass my ideal weight but that it will correct over time," Rey explained.
Eager to build muscle mass, which declines in the weight loss process, Rey recently started a weight-lifting program and as of early 2020 was up to a healthy 133 pounds.
‘I'm a different person'
When patients agree to weight loss surgery, they also have to change the way they eat forever. Rey's daily goal is 100 grams of protein and 45-50 grams of carbs, most of which come from vegetables.
"I fill up pretty quickly," Rey explains. "The way I look at it, food is fuel, and I choose carefully. Are you worth the premium fuel or the off-brand fuel? I decided I was worth the premium fuel."
Rey tries to add extra healthy calories to support his weight-lifting needs. He usually eats between 1,200 to 1,500 calories a day, up from 600 calories a day right after his surgery, as his stomach adjusted. His health issues have all cleared up since the surgery.
"I don't' have sleep apnea. I'm not prediabetic. I don't' have high blood pressure," Rey says. "I'm stronger than I have ever been in my life."
He urges other facing the same frustrations and fears he had before his surgery to take charge of their health.
"Know what you want for yourself and be an advocate for your life," Rey says. "I'm a different person, and it's because I took it upon myself to seek this surgery with Sentara."