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Chris’ Story: Weight Loss Surgery Helps to Temper Extremes

Contributor: Susana Wishnia, MD
6 minute read
Newton-Wellesley Hospital Center for Weight Loss Surgery patient before and after bariatric surgery.

It’s now been 10 years since Chris Salamanis-Rivera first walked through the doors of Newton-Wellesley Hospital’s Center for Weight Loss Surgery

Chris met with Susana Wishnia, MD, a Mass General Brigham bariatric surgeon, and lost the 20 pounds that had been recommended, at that time, for surgery. Once she reached 285 pounds, she was approved for a sleeve gastrectomy.

Chris’ surgery went well, and Dr. Wishnia says Chris was a model patient and a dramatic success story.

“She lost a great amount of weight — more than 130 pounds at 2 years after the procedure — and she had a very good response to the surgery overall. She always follows up with me every year and is very enthusiastic.”

Gains and losses: A history of weight management challenges

Chris was never one to do things halfway, and fully acknowledges that back then her life displayed a pattern of addictive behavior. When she was a smoker, she sucked down two packs a day. When she quit, she gained 150 pounds.

“I quit smoking, so then it became food,” says Chris. “Then I was miserable with the way I looked, so then it became shopping, because I had to buy clothes to make sure I looked good. Then my credit cards didn't like me anymore. Then it went back to food, because it loved me unconditionally, and it was like a vicious circle.”

The sleeve gastrectomy procedure and adjusting behaviors

It took a while for Chris to decide to have bariatric weight loss surgery, despite a long history of significant ups and downs on the scale. For 20 years she struggled with gains and losses (the result of what she calls yo-yo dieting), and despite the extremes, it was hard for her even to find a medical reason to make the decision. Her primary care provider (PCP) had never flagged her weight because she was, in her words, “the healthiest fat person.”

“I had perfect cholesterol, low blood pressure, everything was perfect,” she says. But eventually her PCP told her she needed to do something more permanent to stop her cycle of yo-yo dieting. Even though she didn’t show any signs of diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure, the doctor told her that could all be very different in 10 years.

I quit smoking, so then it became food. Then I was miserable with the way I looked, so then it became shopping because I had to buy clothes to make sure I looked good. Then my credit cards didn't like me anymore. Then it went back to food because it loved me unconditionally, and it was like a vicious circle.

Chris Salamanis-Rivera
Weight Loss Surgery Patient

After bariatric weight loss surgery

After Chris’ sleeve gastrectomy, she struggled at first with figuring out how to balance her obsessive personality along with a healthy lifestyle.  

“You can't exercise right after [the surgery],” she recalls. “You have to wait until you're healed, so it just started with walking. They told me, ‘Walk up and down the halls,’ which is what I did because I live in an apartment building, and so I'd walk the halls every day. My neighbors had to think I was crazy. And then once I was able to start going to the gym — my building had a gym in it as well — so I started doing that 3 times a week.”

“As the weight started coming off and I started seeing changes, I was like, ‘oh, I can add another day.’ Eventually, I was at 7 days a week and I was working out with a trainer; I was really getting into it. And he got to the point where he said ‘okay, you need to back off. Your body needs to relax and rest a minute.’”

Weight loss surgery patient Chris Salamanis-Rivera in 2023.

Life changes after weight loss: Small victories and confidence boosts

Being in constant motion was par for the course for Chris, a busy vice president of learning and development whose work providing training traditionally took her around the country on several flights a week.

Chris says being able to buckle a normal-sized seatbelt on the plane was something of a personal coup for her, cherishing the first time she didn’t have to ask for an extender.

She also says that being able to maintain a healthy weight restored her confidence in her own appearance. Her post-surgery body made her feel attractive enough to start dating again after 12-years post-divorce. She’s open about the fact that being lonely gave her motivation to lose weight as well.

“I was always confident in myself as a person and in work,” she says, “but when you're single and you're heavy, it just was… I don't know. I didn't want to spend the rest of my life alone, so I think that might've helped along the way, was a motivator for me.”

Chris Salamanis and husband Diego Rivera, at their July 3, 2021 wedding.

Post-bariatric surgery management

Nowadays, Chris really seems to have dialed things in, having settled back down with a new partner she describes as “the love of her life.” She takes all of her supplements to prevent nutrient deficiencies (often a requirement after bariatric surgery). The COVID-19 pandemic has trimmed her once-excessive exercise regimen down to a healthy 3 days a week, though she says she wants to get back up to at least 5 days.

The pandemic also brought a puppy into Chris’ life and helps to keep her active.

“He has to go out for a walk at least 3 times a day,” she says. “It's nice to get out and be a little normal again.”

Regan Marsh, MD, MPH headshot


Bariatric Surgeon