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Thursday February 20, 2020
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July 2006 - Volume 3 - Issue 1

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Pioneer Bariatric Surgery Psychologist Joins JFK

"They're inspiring to me," says Melodie K. Moorehead of her bariatric surgery patients. But if they are inspiring to her, imagine what she is to them.

Moorehead, a Bariatric Surgery Psychologist, works both pre- and post-operatively with severely obese patients who are considering bariatric surgery. A pioneer in the field, she has been specializing in bariatric psychology for more than 20 years, and has recently joined the staff of JFK Medical Center in Atlantis.

Moorehead explained that people who suffer from severe obesity experience not only health problems, but also emotional challenges such as depression, discrimination and hurtful comments from others. When that happens, the person's family and friends are affected as well.

As patients deciding to have surgery come to her, she meets with them and helps them understand that in many ways their lives could change forever. Moorehead points out, however, that she does not determine whether or not the surgery should be done. "We liken it to an evaluation of child custody in court—who should get the child in a divorce," she said. "We provide to the 'court' the strengths and challenges of a family and the 'court' make the decision. In the same way, the surgeon decides who is an appropriate candidate for surgery."

As part of the pre-surgery program, Moorehead introduces patients to a CD entitled "The Gift and The Tool." With the help of professional actors, she created this two-set audio CD that is both entertaining and informative, and provides a beautiful, uplifting musical score. The relaxation portion of the CD can also be used during the surgery. To hear snippets of the CD, click on the Boutique section found on Carnie Wilson’s website (liteandhope.com).

Moorehead works with patients following the surgery as well, because she believes they then face new challenges. "It's a new life, a new beginning for them," she said. "I'm there to remind them that they did the right thing, and to say that they didn't take the easy way out. Leslie Haines, the director of our Center, has created a beautiful, comfortable environment, one that promotes a sense of safety where the patients and their loved ones can come to talk, because they are restructuring their lives as quality of life changes." Moorehead, in fact, designed a pre- /post-surgery instrument (the Moorehead-Ardelt Quality of Life Questionnaire) which helps patients and surgeons, internationally, track these changes.

Moorehead's decision to join JFK was influenced by Kendra McDonald, nurse manager of the Bariatric Wellness and Surgical Institute. "Kendra is also the president of the Florida Association for Bariatric Specialists (FABS)," Moorehead continued. "Being a member of FABS myself, I have been impressed by Kendra’s dedication and caring for the surgical candidate."

Moorehead became involved with bariatric surgery psychology when she was working at Fort Lauderdale Hospital more than two decades ago. "I began attending Bariatric Support Group Meetings and fell in love with the patient population. I saw such wonderful improvement; I hadn't seen such improvement in other (kinds of) patients. So as my 22-year referring surgeon was retiring, (JFK) invited me to join their team with surgeon, Andrew Larson, M.D. The developing program here recognizes the specialty and essential value of bariatric surgery psychology as part of the multidisciplinary team approach to the disease of obesity."

Moorehead pointed out that even today, some health professionals believe they can handle treatment for bariatric patients because they are experienced in mental health. "As a result," she said, "I sometimes see a report that says the patient was cleared for 'barometric' surgery." Clearly the need for mental health specialists in bariatric surgery is evident, and Moorehead is pleased that "the field in the past five years has become better trained."

She emphasized again her love for the patients, saying, "There's a resiliency in our patient population. Only 1 percent of the people who need (the surgery) have it, so it shows they have a pioneering spirit. My job is to help support and guide them. When you grow up with prejudice, a person's inner thoughts can be negatively impacted. I like to help patients change the 'diet of their thoughts'."

For her contributions to the field of bariatric surgery, Moorehead was the first woman and first non-surgeon to receive the "Golden Circle of Excellence Award" from the American Society for Bariatric Surgery. However, with all of her accomplishments, Moorehead says she is most proud of "having a profession where I can continue to be involved daily and giving back. I think we are put on Earth for the purpose of sharing our talents, and I have found my niche."

For more information on Bariatric Surgery, please call Leslie Haines, Director of the Bariatric Wellness and Surgical Institute at JFK, at (561) 649-0243.
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