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'Healthier lifestyle more into focus': Pandemic shows power of physical, mental health

Lisette Amaya speaks to 7News' Victoria Sanchez about her weight loss journey. (Image: 7News)
Lisette Amaya speaks to 7News' Victoria Sanchez about her weight loss journey. (Image: 7News)
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Nearly 31 million COVID-19 cases are putting health at the forefront of many American lives.

“Especially age groups that didn’t think they were vulnerable, I think have seen that their health can be jeopardized,” said Dr. Steven Woolf, director emeritus at the Virginia Commonwealth University's Center on Society and Health.

Mental health care is seeing a surge too, says clinical psychologist Dr. Amy Bowers.

“I am busier than I’ve ever been,” she said.

Over the past year, people tried to understand what underlying medical conditions could put them at greater risk of COVID-19.

“In a way, the pandemic has really brought the healthier lifestyle more into focus,” said Dr. J. Salameh, Virginia Hospital Center’s medical director of the Center for Bariatric Surgery. “We know obesity is a huge risk factor for medical issues and it’s a high risk for mortality from COVID as well.”

Dr. Salameh said since the pandemic, he’s seeing more patients look into weight loss surgery to get healthy.

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“This type of surgery is not for somebody who gained the Quarantine 15,” said 7News Health Reporter Victoria Sanchez.

“Pretty much every patient I see has been dealing with weight issues all their life. This is not something new,” he explained.

Before the pandemic hit, Lisette Amaya knew she needed help.

“My weight, like I felt it was a cry for help,” the 22-year-old told Sanchez during a Zoom interview.

Dr. Salameh said Amaya’s story is like many he’s hearing now.

“I was going down a path being unhealthy, and I was just at a point where I just want to break up with myself. I want a new relationship with myself where I am at a healthy point in my life,” she said.

At 5’5”, she was 283 lbs.

“So, how much do you weigh now?” Sanchez asked.

“I weigh 143,” Amaya said proudly.

Her journey didn’t start in the operating room with Dr. Salameh behind the control of the DaVinci surgical robot.

“She went through the whole process with us. She worked with our whole team, with our dietician, with our psychologist,” he said.

The whole health approach will last beyond COVID.

“Especially when you take someone young like Lisett, who really has all her life ahead of her, who is healthier, her risk of developing medical problems has gone down dramatically,” said Dr. Salameh.

As for Amaya, she is exercising, working, and going to school at George Mason University. She’s happier and healthier than she’s ever been.

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