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A Conversation with Dr. Bounoua, Weight-loss surgeon

A Conversation with Dr. Bounoua, Weight-loss surgeon

Dr. Farida Bounoua helps patients lose weight surgically, watching them ‘blossom’ afterward.

Dr. Bounoua, a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons (FACS) and a member of the American Society of Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS), came to Lompoc Valley Medical Center two years ago to develop a surgical weight loss program. She and Dr. Christopher Taglia, FACS, DABOM, have a joint experience performing over 1000 Bariatric surgeries, most recently completing over 100 Bariatric surgeries while developing the Bariatric Surgery Program at Lompoc Valley Medical Center.

“Lompoc Valley Medical Center has a comprehensive program,” Dr. Bounoua explains. “It’s not just about the surgeon you will see, but you will have a gastroenterologist and a cardiologist, a dietitian and mental health professional to support you in this journey and prepare you for success. Each team member brings particular expertise to make the patient meet his goal.”

Dr. Bounoua’s path toward a medical career didn’t start with the bariatric specialty.

In August 2021, LVMC’s Bariatric Surgery Program became a nationally accredited Comprehensive Bariatric program that meets the highest standards for patient safety and quality by the Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Accreditation and Quality improvement program (MBSAQIP). A Joint quality program of the American College of Surgeons and the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS).  

LVMC has a Bariatric Surgery program that encompasses a multidisciplinary team that will follow all bariatric surgery patients from initial consultation through their entire weight loss journey and beyond, with annual follow-up once the goal-weight has been met.

The team consists of a Bariatric Surgery Program coordinator and Clinical Surgical Reviewer who will help patients navigate through the initial preoperative phase and long-term follow-up. A Bariatric Nutritionist who will help prepare the patients for the new lifestyle and relationship with food. A Behavioral health specialist with a certification in Bariatrics who will help prepare you and support you with the emotional adjustments that patients will go through. A physical therapist that guides you on your path by helping you in developing a safe exercise plan prior to surgery and after surgery. LVMC also offers monthly Bariatric Support groups and Nutritional Seminars.

Dr. Bounoua earned her medical degree from the University of Algiers and obtained her medical license in Paris, France. She completed an Emergency residency at the University of Rene Descartes Paris V, France, then worked for two years as an attending in the emergency department in Paris.

Education was strongly emphasized by her parents, both of whom were Principals, Dr. Bounoua comes from a family of 12 children -- 11 daughters and one son. Seven of the siblings became physicians.

When she moved to the U.S., Dr. Bounoua realized that the triage of patients as an emergency physician was not suited for her, noting she “wanted to act and see the result of my decision making and therapy, (so) surgery was the natural choice for me, with the plan to do a minimally invasive and bariatric surgery fellowship.”

Dr. Bounoua completed her surgical residency at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, California.

With minimally invasive surgery, patients have a short recovery and less risk for complications, she explains.

“Complications such as hernias, venous thrombosis – as patients move and walk right after the surgery -- occur less often,” she says. “They are able to drink water the day of the surgery.”

With bariatric surgery, “You really help people change their quality of life. What is life if you cannot enjoy it fully? You bring out the real person.”

She says that patients have a new life, living the best version of themselves.

“You build a lifelong relationship with the patient, requiring trust, discipline, and compassion,” Dr. Bounoua notes. “I will be there when they return to unhealthy eating habits and help them get back on track and have a better lifestyle. Patients need a follow-up regularly, not because they have complications, but because you want to ensure their vitamin levels are adequate, and their weight loss is sustained. Knowing you have someone, you will see every year who will help you be more accountable -- you will do your best to be successful.”

She understands there are many reasons someone might avoid having bariatric surgery – social stigma, fear, insurance concerns, family resistance, for instance.

But Dr. Bounoua says a simple consultation appointment is the place to start for any person who has ever been told they need to lose weight to be healthy or anyone who is taking medication for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or has diabetes and was told they need to lose weight.

“Most of my patients are more than 100 pounds overweight. I am 116 (pounds). Helping them with the surgery to lift off someone as big as me from their back, they are carrying it everywhere, wherever they go, you can imagine how that affects every organ of their body.”

She smiles broadly when speaking about how people blossom after bariatric surgery.

“Patients often said, ‘If I knew it would be that easy, I would have done it earlier in my life, as it did change my life completely. I am now the one I always wanted to be.’”

She often hears from prospective patients that they’ve reached a point where there are too many barriers in their lives because of their weight. Patients can’t fit into amusement park rides or are fearful they won’t live long enough to see their grandchildren. Some are tired of having high blood sugar levels, or of dealing with diabetes.

“If they wait too long, they see life go by,” she adds.

After weight loss surgery, she hears concerns from patients worried about foods they love, that “I will never be able to have this.” That is not so, she says.

“You will be able to eat everything, except in small portions, and make priorities in your food choices,” Dr. Bounoua explains. “If you say you are someone who really loves chocolate, you can have chocolate, not cookies, cakes, ice cream, etc. You have to choose what’s important for you, as everyone is different, and you will have to keep a routine and work out.”

A mindset change needs to occur for patients, such as rethinking the association of food pleasure or special events, such as birthdays and anniversaries. Instead of going out to eat on those days, consider going to a play, a concert, or giving someone flowers. Those alternatives still make a person feel good but don’t involve food, Dr. Bounoua suggests.

“I come from a country where food is important,” she says. “And I love chocolate. I will eat chocolate in moderation and pass on the food I don’t really care for. I am not the trash can. If I don t like it, I leave it.”

She gets great joy, she says, in the transformation of her patients. It’s not just that they’ve lost weight or sizes in clothing, she adds.

“It’s not about that,” Dr. Bounoua explains. “It’s about the confidence they have. The way they look at life differently. They become a bit selfish – in a good way – because they care for themselves. They decide what’s best for them in work, life, and family. That’s what gives me great pleasure. When I do colon cancer or stomach cancer surgery, you would say it’s important, and I save lives. True, but I save the quality of life in weight loss surgery. Because I not only keep them breathing and having basic functions of life, but I feel I make their life is worth living. There is a difference. That is what provides me the greatest satisfaction. I feel I have made a genuine, long-term difference in their life.”