PORTSMOUTH — Last week a special group of people met at Portsmouth Regional Hospital for a very special reunion.

All were people who had bariatric surgery for weight loss. The event was hosted by the staff of the Medical and Surgical Weight Loss program, of which Jessica LaFleur is director.

“Every month we hold post-operative support groups for patients who have had surgery,” said LaFleur. “So, we decided to have a celebration of success. Having support is a big part of the success of this type of surgery. We wanted to have a way to connect the patients with each other in a better way, so they can share stories and discuss what works for them with people who have something in common.”

LaFleur said they worked with the food service people at the hospital to create a menu for the evening that would be in line with the goals of the patients.

Everyone involved in the bariatric process — dieticians, medical assistants and even the surgeons — were invited. LaFleur said that she loved the employees from surgeons' office coming to the celebrations, because they often do not get a chance to see patients after the surgery and follow up appointments have been completed.

“We had high protein appetizers, gluten-free choices, just things they are comfortable with or getting used to being part of their diet, but delicious,” said LaFleur. “We decorated the room. We had raffles and giveaways. I think about 70 people came out and it went well. They connected with each other and were appreciative of having a way to do that.”

People went around the room and shared success stories. LaFleur said many were what she calls non-scale victories.

“People talked about having the energy to play with their grandchildren,” she said. “They talked about being less tired all the time. Being able to get on an airplane without feelings of shame came up often.”

One of the patients was Melanie Savage, who now works as a medical assistant in the bariatric program.

“I have been overweight all my life,” said Savage. “I watched my mom being ill, she and most of my family members developed Type 2 diabetes. I did not want that to be me. The last time I flew; I was close to not being able to buckle my seat belt without asking for an extender. I did not want to ask for that. People look at you when you are getting on a plane, secretly hoping they will not have to sit next to you.”

Savage said she entered the bariatric program and had her surgery in August. She has lost 82 pounds to date.

“I can cross my legs now,” said Savage. “That might sound like nothing, but for me, it’s huge. I see me in the mirror now, not that fat girl I was. I am no longer looking at that doom of diabetes down the road. My son can hug me and put his arms all the way around me.”

Shopping is something Savage enjoys so much more now.

“I couldn’t go shopping with my girlfriends, not really,” said Savage. “I would head for the plus size section if there was one. If not, I could not shop in that retail store. I was wearing a 4X and now I am in an XL, and they are getting loose on me.

LaFleur, who is a registered dietician was the first-person Savage worked with during the program. Savage said LaFleur told her about a job opening in their office, and she jumped at it.

“Much of weight loss is mind games,” said Savage. “Now, when I talk with other patients, I can share what worked for me. I can give them helpful tips because I have been where they are.”

LaFleur said it is her hope that the event allows for friendships to form, and that it will result in people sticking with the support groups, which she said are a very important part of the weight loss program.