In 2007, Melissa Hahl, 26, of Barnegat, New Jersey, watched as her cousin, who had long struggled with obesity, changed her life by having weight loss surgery at The Center for Surgical Weight Loss & Wellness at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, Atlantic City Campus.
Over the next three years, Hahl said she tried just about everything in an attempt to lose weight, become healthy, and change her own life, but nothing worked.
“I had tried numerous diets since I was 14,” explained Hahl. “When I made the decision to learn more about weight loss surgery, I viewed an online ARMC weight-loss surgery seminar in January 2011.”
Having a body mass index, or BMI, of about 50, Hahl was considered super morbidly obese. The Barnegat resident was suffering from three different co-morbidities, or additional health issues. These included obstructive sleep apnea, fatty infiltration of the liver and polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Hahl learned through the seminar that ARMC requires a step-by-step enrollment process into its weight loss surgery program to ensure surgery is appropriate for patients. Following the seminar, she took an online test to make sure she understood the procedure and implications of the surgery. She then met with Alexander Onopchenko, MD, FACS, medical director of the Center and Surgical director, AtlantiCare Physician Group Surgical Services.
“Melissa was an ideal candidate for gastric bypass,” explained Onopchenko. “Because of her age, maturity, motivation, and knowledge of what she was doing, it was great to assist her in changing her life.”
For Hahl, a medical receptionist at Stafford Medical, Manahawkin, New Jersey, this was less about losing weight and more about improving her health. “Melissa saw being overweight as a true health problem,” said Onopchenko. “She was committed to enhancing her quality of and living a longer life.”
Onopchenko learned Hahl’s medical history, conducted a physical and answered her questions. Onopchenko informed Hahl that, while she was a good candidate for surgery, the loss of four to seven pounds would bring her BMI to below 50, which would limit the risk of any problems arising from undergoing the surgery.
In preparation for her gastric bypass, Hahl worked with a personal trainer and went to the gym three to four times a week. She lost 13 pounds.
Hahl met two more times with Onopchenko and his team to discuss preliminary test results, learn more about the surgery, and sign consent forms.
Hahl had gastric bypass surgery April 12, 2011. She lost an additional 98 pounds after the procedure. Hahl said she lives a much healthier and happier life, but she said she knows her gastric bypass surgery was not the end of the road. “Weight loss surgery is not a quick fix,” said Hahl. “It’s a lifetime commitment. It’s a tool to help me, but ultimately it is up to me –and others who have the surgery- to make that tool work.”
Hahl, who has continued to stay active since her surgery, said she feels like her life is just beginning. “Before surgery, I didn’t want to leave my room,” she explained. “I was constantly unhappy and embarrassed. Now, I have a revitalized sense of life, health, and happiness.”
Since surgery, Hahl’s other health issues have either gone away or greatly improved. For her, this surgery was so much more than a way to lose weight and look better.
“Dr. Onopchenko and ARMC’s team were very personable and one-on-one,” she said of her care before, during and after her surgery. “They answered every question my loved ones or I had. I felt like knew what I was getting myself into, and they made me feel very comfortable with the surgery.”
For more information about ARMC’s Center for Surgical Weight Loss and Wellness, call the AtlantiCare Access Center at 1-888-569-1000 or visit www.atlanticare.org.
Media Contacts: Jennifer Tornetta, 609-569-7010,
Frank Tedesco, 609-748-7539,
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