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Aaron’s Story: Gastric Bypass Inspires Deep Change

Contributor Nari Sabeti, MD
8 minute read
A Salem Hospital weight loss surgery patient

Aaron Grossi’s life has been full of changes. A high school soccer star who grew up in Saugerties, New York, and Durham, New Hampshire, Aaron attended college at Keene State (also in New Hampshire). He later lived in New York City pursuing a career in musical theater.

Back then, Aaron was Ariane, and his story is one that involves struggles not just with weight, but also with gender identity and depression. Aaron says he’d been overweight for much of his adult life, but the weight gain would become much more dramatic after his mother’s death in 2014.

Currently a resident of Salem, MA, Aaron found the Surgical Weight Loss Management Program at Salem Hospital in his search to explore weight loss surgery options. In February of 2022, he met with Nari Sabeti, MD, a Mass General Brigham surgeon whom had recently joined the hospital’s bariatrics team.

Dr. Sabeti has performed more than 400 weight loss procedures in her career as a surgeon. She’d already worked with many patients who were dealing with a variety of physical, mental, and emotional issues, including depression. She notes that, as in most similar programs, the preparatory period requires not just physical commitments but also psychological examination.

Overeating and depression

Many patients who undergo weight loss surgery recall distinct memories of their food addiction replacing another addiction. Overeating, and conditions like binge eating disorder, may become a substitute for substance use disorders or cravings for cigarettes, alcohol, or even love and affection.

Aaron knew he needed to quit smoking after his mother died. She had always asked him when he would quit. Two months after her death, he took his last puff of a cigarette, and hasn’t smoked in the last 10 years.

“I never looked back, never cheated,” Aaron recalls of his decision to quit smoking. “But I turned to food as my comfort. There's comfort in food, and that is something that is hard to acknowledge,” he says. “I ate for my own mental health.”

Aaron began overeating whenever he began to experience symptoms of depression. His new addiction led to rapid weight gain and an onslaught of other health issues. Over the next 8 years, he gained 261 pounds, and his diabetes was “out of control.”

Gastric bypass: Making the decision

“I knew I was heavy enough to qualify for weight loss surgery,” Aaron says about deciding to undergo the gastric bypass procedure. “I didn't have the willpower to maintain dieting. I could do it for a little bit of time, but then I would give up and I had nothing in front of me to push me to want to go any further.”

Then, Aaron found his inspiration. A friend of Aaron’s — one who started his weight loss journey at a heavier weight than Aaron — had opted for bariatric surgery and shared the details of his experience. Aaron witnessed his weight loss progress, which motivated him to research the procedure for himself.

In February of 2022, at Dr. Sabeti’s recommendation, he resolved to have gastric bypass surgery. The bypass, unlike the purely ‘restrictive’ gastric sleeve procedure, re-routes digestion in a way that affects metabolism and absorption. The result tends to be more effective in addressing diabetes in patients.

Getting into the bariatric surgery program

When Aaron prepared for gastric bypass, he fit the description of what doctors might call the ‘perfect patient.’ He started eating correctly. He attended the online nutrition classes that were part of Salem’s pre-surgical preparation program. He began buying only healthy foods: protein-rich foods like meats and cheeses, eggs, and fruits and vegetables.

“Aaron did everything that was required of him,” says Dr. Sabeti. “He saw the nutritionist, saw the neuropsychologist, saw me. He made the decision, made the commitment. Then he went through the [pre-surgical] process, which all takes about 4 months.”

Aaron lost 40 pounds before surgery by keeping up this high level of commitment during the program’s preparatory period. In June of 2022, Aaron had the surgery.

Staying active after bariatric surgery

Aaron talks with bariatric surgery program coordinator Jennifer Racine at Salem Hospital’s Surgical Weight Loss Management Program.

Aaron’s gastric bypass procedure went well, with no complications. His recovery wasn’t difficult, and he embraced a permanent change in adjusting his post-surgery diet. Activity remained a challenge for him, however, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic made his job remote.

Though many people who’ve lost more than 100 pounds after a bariatric procedure have stories that show intense transformation in their levels of physical activity, Aaron does not count himself among them. He’ll be 54 in March and says that part of his depression came from physically ‘peaking early,’ at a time when women’s sports did not hold a lot of promise for the future.

“I was a huge athlete as a kid. In my high school years, I was a nationally ranked soccer player,” he recalls.

Since then, Aaron’s activity levels have waned. He doesn’t like to exercise anymore. However, he knew he had to keep his metabolism going after surgery.

So, he started taking his dogs for regular walks. They weren’t the longest of walks, but they kept him active throughout the day. Aside from mild and temporary holiday weight gain, Aaron’s lifestyle changes have stuck. But he knew his transformation was not complete.

Gender identity breakthrough

As a biracial child adopted by a family of Germans and Italians, Aaron says he felt nothing but lifelong love and acceptance from his family. But it took the dramatic change of weight loss surgery — and even thoughts of suicide — to tell his father that he felt he had always been misgendered.

“I realized that, even though I’d ‘fixed my outside,’ I was still so horribly unhappy on the inside, and it opened a floodgate in my brain,” he says. “I was sitting with my dad, looking at him, and I knew at that moment that ending my life was not the right choice.”

With his new weight hovering between 145 and 150 pounds, Aaron’s comfort with his new physique and new behaviors are evident in his body language. With obesity in the rearview mirror, he knew that making difficult changes was possible. He also knew that the results could feel magical.

It has been an amazing, beautiful journey and I’m excited to share it with as many people as I can. I hope that I can inspire anybody who might be struggling in the same way.

Aaron Grossi

Salem Hospital weight loss surgery patient

In the 18 months since his bariatric surgery, Aaron has fully committed to gender transition. He’s started testosterone treatments and has met with plastic surgeons in preparation for top surgery. In anticipation of a ‘bucket list’ trip to Thailand that he’s planning to take this year, he’s also had his name legally changed.

“My passport says ‘Aaron.’ My license says ‘Aaron.’ My name is Aaron,” he says. “It will be the first thing that I do 100% male-presenting where I don't have to answer to anybody. It's like, I get to go and just be me for the first time. And I haven't been able to do that ever in my life.”


Bariatric surgeon