Patient Stories

Patient Stories

Letitia Thomas: Breathing Easier

They don't just have their jobs to have jobs — they have their jobs because they really care.

Letitia Thomas holding pottery

Letitia Thomas, 36, of East Elmhurst, Queens, had sometimes struggled with her weight. But after giving birth to her youngest son, the scale climbed to 297 pounds on her 5-foot 6-inch frame and that struggle reached a new level. Living with asthma, the extra weight was making her feel short of breath, low in energy, and sluggish. So when her primary care doctor recommended she consider weight loss surgery, she went to the hospital that she knew and trusted the most: NewYork-Presbyterian Queens. Since her surgery in November 2021, she has more than halved her weight and is now living comfortably at 140 pounds — and breathing a whole lot easier every day.

Methods to lose weight without surgery had not worked. Letitia's mother had been to NewYork-Presbyterian Queens 20 years earlier for her own weight loss surgery and knew how beneficial the results could be. "I've been going to NewYork-Presbyterian Queens for years, and I knew I could trust this hospital with my life," said Letitia. Her journey began in May 2021, when she went to the first of many appointments to prepare for the procedure that would change her future. Her team asked about her weight loss goals and designed a plan of care tailored to her needs and preferences.

Bariatric surgeon Stephen Merola, MD — who had also performed her mother's weight loss surgery, and remembered her — explained the operation and performed a sleeve gastrectomy on November 30. During this operation, the surgeon removes 60 to 75 percent of the stomach, reducing it to the approximate size of a banana or "sleeve" — restricting the amount of food a patient can eat. Letitia spent one night in the hospital. It was the first surgical procedure she had ever had, and it had gone well. She mentally prepared herself for the changes she would need to make to her diet and to her life.

She could only have liquids the first week, graduating to soups and very soft foods and taking vitamins to make sure she got the nutrition she needed. "At first it was hard. I felt like I was eating like an infant!" recalled Letitia, a mother of three. With the support of her care team, she learned which foods she could eat and how much of them. Her mother helped prepare her meals and her 16-year-old daughter helped her take care of her youngest son (now 4) while Letitia recovered.

Over time, the weight started to come off — first slowly, and then rapidly. Clothing felt looser. Letitia didn't need her asthma inhaler as much. Her energy increased and she felt amazing. "I walk every day. I walk my son to school. I have a car, but whenever I can get somewhere on foot, I walk!" she asserted. She also works out at her local gym, with her 16-year-old godson (whom she adopted) playing the role of personal trainer.

NewYork-Presbyterian Queens offers online support groups for people who have had weight loss surgery, and Letitia found it invaluable to share her feelings with others who had been through the same experience. "We became a small family who had surgery together and now share recipes. It's like a little reunion each time we meet!" she said.

Today Letitia, a personal care aide, is studying to become a registered nurse — as her mother was. "It was her calling and it is mine, too. I will always be in health care!" she noted. "One of the goals I had after this surgery is to be proactive and spread more awareness about good health. I would say to anyone who has tried everything to lose weight and can't that there is another way, and that's the surgery."

Her entire experience with food has changed for the better. Her meals are rarely more than the size of a fast-food kids' meal. She not only enjoys a healthy diet low in sugar and high in fruits and vegetables, but she grows whatever she can in her own backyard. She is passing on her healthy habits to her children, who enjoy gardening and working out with her. "My family has changed their way of eating just as I did," she added. 

Letitia credits Dr. Merola and her entire team at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens for turning her life around for the better. "The people at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens are so knowledgeable and supportive," she concluded. "They don't just have their jobs to have jobs — they have their jobs because they really care."