Committing to Change: Weight Loss Surgery Provides Hope for Locals

Locals Regaining Health, Embracing New Lifestyle after Newly-Offered Bariatric Surgery in Leonardtown 

The tipping point came in the form of a toddler. 

Paul Horner’s two-year-old grandson  David, affectionately called “Junior,”  and big sister Jamie wanted to play with their grandpa. Paul wanted that, too — but his weight made participating in everyday activities difficult. 

The 56-year-old aircraft mechanic says he has been heavy his whole life.  A U.S. Navy veteran, Paul had to lose weight in order to join the military at age 17. He served eight years in the Navy before being honorably discharged for failure to meet body composition standards. 

Decades later, the father of two and grandfather of seven reached his heaviest point: 467 pounds. 

Interacting with Junior only reinforced how restricted Paul was.  Knee pain made walking difficult and painful. He stopped shopping in stores, choosing to stay in his truck while longtime girlfriend Rose ran the errands. Sleep apnea prevented  Paul from getting adequate rest  — especially challenging given his schedule; he’s worked the night shift for 25 years. 

And there was the mental pain, too:  stares and comments from strangers.  “Kids would say, ‘Oh, he’s fat.’ It hurt,”  Paul said. “Of course it did.” 

Previous attempts at weight loss had been unsuccessful. And traveling to medical centers in Washington,  D.C., to explore surgical options and find support was inconvenient for the California, Maryland-based mechanic. 

Through Health Connections at  MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital in  Leonardtown, Paul met nutritionist  Catherine Dowling, RDN, LDN. In  May 2017, he committed to following a bariatric menu: smaller portions that are high in protein, low in carbohydrates. 

Catherine shared information on a bariatric support group that meets monthly at MedStar St.  Mary’s. There Paul found a wealth of resources and support: through medical professionals, yes, but also from attendees standing in the same shoes. Paul’s goal was to get prepared — physically and mentally  — for the sleeve gastrectomy that would be performed by Nicholas  Tapazoglou, MD, a board-certified bariatric and general surgeon at  MedStar St. Mary’s. 

Also known as a gastric sleeve procedure, this technique involves removing the outer margin of the stomach so only a “sleeve”— roughly the size and shape of a banana —  remains. 

Paul was determined to get into “the right mindset” before his surgery.  With the camaraderie and resources offered by his nutritionist, support group, Dr. Tapazoglou, and his staff, he lost 112 pounds in five months simply by following the bariatric menu.  The extensive pre-planning made him feel “ready and prepared” by October  2017, he said, when Paul became the first patient to undergo a sleeve gastrectomy at MedStar  St. Mary’s. After one night in the hospital,  he was sent home with a smaller stomach  — and a new lease on life. 

Now a self-professed “label reader,”  Paul pays close attention to the protein and carbohydrate content of everything he consumes. He still eats three meals a day, but they’re 4 ounces of lean,  healthy foods, with protein shakes in between. 

The Navy veteran reports to Naval  Air Station Patuxent River when most people are going to bed. His “lunch,”  then, comes at 2 a.m. Paul brings small,  healthy selections like Greek yogurt,  salad, and light soup for his breaks. 

Gone are the medications he was taking to combat high blood pressure and depression. His knee pain has disappeared. Most notably, weight loss has lessened the pressure on  Paul’s airways; he has not used a BiPAP machine for sleep apnea since last fall. 

The financial savings have been considerable, too. He estimates he was spending $20 to $25 on fast food daily.  Rose, Paul’s girlfriend, now prepares most of the couple’s meals with an emphasis on vegetables. He loves  Fairlife milk (“the best milk,” Paul enthused), and bread and pasta have been eliminated from his diet completely.  With his increased mobility and energy, Paul pursues a passion shared with his best friend, Gene: working on antique cars.  Navigating the workshop is much easier these days.  The two are restoring a ’23  Ford T-Bucket, Gene’s dream car, while Paul is fixing up a ’67  Chevrolet Nova. 

By late December, Paul had dropped an additional 48 pounds — 160 and counting. He plans to reach 220 before shifting to maintaining his weight.  Paul attributes his success, in part, to the support of nutritionist Catherine,  MedStar St. Mary’s patient services coordinator Jennifer McDermott,  and nurse Rita Michelle McDonald,  CMA. He also speaks highly of Dr.  Tapazoglou, who impressed Paul and his family greatly by always making the time to answer questions and follow up on Paul’s care. 

The bariatric support group attendees have been a tremendous resource,  too. The group has a private Facebook page to stay in touch between meetings. “When I’m feeling down,  maybe stalling in my weight loss, I  go there and find encouragement,”  said Paul, recently scrolling through inspirational words from friends — some with surgeries behind them, others with surgeries to come. 

Considering the advice he would give others thinking about this “life-changing”  procedure, Paul said, “Make sure your mind is straight. You have to be ready to do this mentally. The  surgery is just a tool; if you don’t use  the tool right, you’re not going to get  the job done.” 

Junior and Jamie see the difference in their grandfather, who moves more and smiles easily. “Now I’m doing the chasing,” Paul said. “Junior doesn’t  chase me; I chase him.” 

The Happy Struggle 

For Rashida Blake, the weight came on gradually. 

A mother of three and new grandmother, Rashida has lupus; a  decade’s worth of weight fluctuations were a source of frustration. When she reached 384 pounds, the Lexington  Park woman knew she needed to seek a solution to be there for her family. 

“I started noticing I wasn’t doing things like I used to. I had small kids, and I  wanted to be able to do physical activities with them — being so tired,  dealing with back pain . . . it was time for a change,” she said. 

With the help of Dr. Tapazoglou and dietitians at MedStar St. Mary’s,  Rashida began a journey that started with reframing her thoughts about eating. 

“The nutrition counseling was really inspiring,” she said. “I didn’t think you could look at food in that sense: measuring it, considering protein  . . . it was very educational.” 

Eight months of preparation set Rashida up for success, she said,  when she started 2018 by undergoing a sleeve gastrectomy on Jan. 2. 

“Nutrition counseling literally broke everything down day by day and gave me confidence going into that procedure,” she said. 

After just two days at MedStar St. Mary’s, Rashida was released to continue her progress at home. “Recovery has been really good.  The pain was not as severe as I thought it would be,” she said.  “Dr. Tapazoglou is very in tune with his patients; he’s very thoughtful,  and wanted to make sure I felt OK to go home. Dr. T wanted me  to walk [in the hospital], and I started walking around literally that  evening [post-surgery].” 

And Rashida just keeps going. “When my Fitbit says to move, I move,”  she said, noting that a three-story townhouse and young children at home help keep her hopping. “Going up and down the stairs is a constant. I just started walking on a treadmill, and that has  been great.” 

A few weeks after her procedure, Rashida was down 29 pounds toward her personal goal weight of 220. She’d already noticed her  feet were no longer swollen and her legs felt “looser.” 

“This is more mental than anything else,” said Rashida. “You have to prepare and be ready to make the lifestyle change. But to anyone dealing with obesity, tell yourself: this is needed. This is a healthy decision. It will be a struggle, but it turns out to be a happy struggle. 

“Go for it!” she said. “It’s your life. Life is too short to waste it. Just go  for it.” 

Visit for more information or to schedule a consultation. 

Schedule a Consultation 

To schedule an appointment with Nicholas Tapazoglou, MD, General & Bariatric Surgeon, call 240-434-4088.

Dr. Nicholas Tapazoglou is available from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. He is board-certified in general surgery and is able to coordinate patient care through a wide range of specialty physicians available through the MedStar Health system. He offers care and treatment for various conditions, including abdominal wall/hernia, gallbladder, morbid obesity, skin and soft tissue, small intestine, spleen, stomach, surgical treatments of gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD) and thyroid.

Learn More:

Eating Right After Surgery 

Complete dietary changes are at the heart of the bariatric journey. Depending on insurance requirements, patients will meet with a nutritionist for two to seven months prior to surgery. "Four ounces of food — half a cup, about the size of your fist — is roughly what the stomach will hold after a sleeve gastrectomy,” explained Wendy Chatham,  RDN, LD, a dietitian at MedStar St. Mary’s  Hospital.  

After the initial liquid and soft food diet stages post-surgery, patients can expect a few things:

  • Consume a protein-rich diet that is low in carbohydrates and fat. Proteins are the priority: meat, fish,  poultry, eggs, low-fat dairy, soy,  nuts, and legumes. 
  • Drink all fluids separately from meals. Fluids must be calorie-free,  non-carbonated, and caffeine-free. 
  • Avoid sweets, alcohol, and high-fat foods. 
  • Take a daily vitamin/ mineral supplement. 

For appointments With Wendy Chatham, RDN, LD, dietitian, call  301-475-6019

Meet General and Bariatric Surgeon, Nicholas Tapazoglou, MD

Board certified in general surgery and fellowship trained in bariatric surgery, Dr. Tapazoglou specializes in minimally-invasive and laparoscopic procedures.


“I offer laparoscopic preperitoneal inguinal hernia surgery, which means instead of entering through the abdomen, I go between the abdomen and hernia. This procedure is known to result in fewer complications and less pain for patients. It’s an outpatient procedure, after which patients leave the hospital from the recovery room.”


“A hiatal hernia occurs in the diaphragm and often goes hand-in-hand with reflux. Typically, a hiatal hernia is not something you know you have, but rather something you find out about through imaging from your doctor. I offer both hiatal hernia repair and anti-reflux procedures. Basically, if you have severe reflux that’s not being managed by medications, or if you have Barrett’s Esophagus or a known hiatal hernia, you can qualify for these procedures.” 


“No one else in this region is performing bariatric weight loss surgery so I wanted to bring that here for the residents of this area. Currently, we are working with MedStar Washington Hospital Center’s Bariatric Surgery Program to bring bariatric surgery to MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital. I have patients here who are nearing completion of or who have already completed the extensive pre-operative preparation for bariatric
surgery, so we know there’s definitely an interest.”


“Patients can lose 60 to 70 percent of excess body weight, which can extend their life expectancy by 10 to 20 years and improve their quality of life by 95 percent. All types of medical problems are often resolved after bariatric surgery and it reduces the risk of just about every kind of cancer.”


Many insurance companies offer coverage for weight loss surgeries, but some do not. Before talking to a specialist, contact your insurance company to determine what is covered under your specific policy.

General and Bariatric Surgeon
Conveniently Located in Leonardtown

Dr. Tapazoglou’s office is in the hospital’s Outpatient Pavilion, located at 25500 Point Lookout Road in Leonardtown.

Contact Us Today
or call 240-434-4088 for an appointment.

Vascular Surgery Advancements Keep Patients Close to Home

Care Worth Sharing

Eleanor and Sonny Mistretta of Hollywood, Maryland

“Would you recommend this doctor to a friend?”  It’s a common question found on satisfaction surveys delivered to inboxes or mailboxes. A better, more telling question – especially in the world of health care - might be, “Would you recommend this doctor to your family?”

Following the care she received from Arthur Flatau, MD, general and vascular surgeon at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital, Eleanor Mistretta, of Hollywood, Maryland, answered that second question with a resounding, “Yes!”

Eleanor came to MedStar St. Mary’s Emergency Department in February with stomach pains. Dr. Flatau removed her gallbladder the next day. “We were having a discussion about surgery afterward,” said Eleanor, “and I asked him if he did aneurisms and he said, ‘Yes, I do.’ ”

Eleanor’s husband of 54 years, Sonny, knew he would eventually need  surgery for his aortic aneurism, which had been found by his urologist about four years ago, but he admits to trying “to stretch it out”  to delay the procedure. “When I did Eleanor’s surgery and everything went ok, she asked me about Sonny’s abdominal aortic aneurysm and I explained to her that was actually the type of surgery I was brought here to do,” said Dr. Flatau.

An abdominal aortic aneurysm occurs when a section of the aorta, the main blood vessel to the abdomen, pelvis and legs, enlarges. Often discovered through an ultrasound or CT scan, patients who have these types of aneurisms are typically followed closely by their doctor until the aneurysm reaches between 5 and 5.5 cm.

“Once the aneurysm is a size we know puts the patient at risk, we will fix the aneurysm electively,” said Dr. Flatau.

After recently traveling into Washington, D.C., for her own health concerns, Eleanor didn’t want Sonny’s surgery done in the city. “I preferred he have the surgery done right here in St. Mary’s,” said Eleanor. “The hospital’s only two miles away!”

Sonny’s surgery was performed on a Thursday morning in mid April, and he was released from the hospital late Friday night. “When we talked, Dr. Flatau told me exactly what was going to be done and showed us the stent he was going to use,” said Sonny. “He told me if the aneurysm ruptured, it would be an emergency situation, and if I went to the emergency room, there might not be a doctor available who could fix it.”

 “If a patient comes in with a rupture, we will certainly treat it here as long as it’s within our capabilities,” said Dr. Flatau. “It’s actually safer to treat patients here than to send them somewhere else. The quicker a patient goes from the ER to the OR, the better their outcome.

“We have definitely increased the complexity of what we are doing here and the bottom line is that we are able to do much of the same surgery here that is also done in larger hospitals,” said Dr. Flatau, “and we are happy to do it if that’s what the patient wants.”

Sharing More than a Brotherly Bond

Brothers Bernie, left, and Robbie Baird.
Brothers Bernie, left, and Robbie Baird.

When you are brothers you share a lot of things – family, hobbies, friends, likes and dislikes. But the Baird brothers of Avenue shared a medical condition which would ultimately lead them both to John Harvey, MD, general and vascular surgeon with MedStar Shah Medical Group. Both brothers suffer from peripheral artery disease, a narrowing of the peripheral arteries to the legs, stomach, arms, and head.

Dr. Harvey was recommended to Bernie Baird by his primary care physician after Bernie started having intense pain in the back of his left leg. “I would work a little bit and it would start hurting so badly it was unbelievable,” said Bernie, who is 65. “I didn’t know what it was and at first I thought it might have something to do with my back.”

Testing determined Bernie had a blocked artery behind his knee. Metal stints or a balloon procedure called angioplasty are often the first choices for opening a clogged artery. Relatively simple procedures, patients usually don’t require lengthy hospital stays or long recovery times. “He put a stent in and it worked well for a couple of weeks, then it started to hurt again,” said Bernie.  “My cardiologist said that for some reason my body just rejected that stent.”

“With stents or angioplasty, patients are in and out,” said Dr. Harvey. “We can fix the problem right away and they get better right away.  The down side is they don’t necessarily last as long.”

When Bernie went back to Dr. Harvey, the decision was made to perform a bypass of the clogged artery. “The bypass surgery is a bigger operation and may require several days in the hospital and maybe rehabilitation,” said Dr. Harvey, “but it is more durable in the long term.”

Much like his brother, Robbie Baird was also looking for a long-term solution to similar issues he was facing. Almost 20 years ago, Robbie, 60, had an aorta bypass surgery, which is a y-shaped graft that bypasses the blocked arteries in order to return blood flow to the legs.

“I wish Dr. Harvey had been here 20 years ago,” said Robbie. “I had been through it before and I knew what it felt like. I couldn’t work or do anything.”

“The surgery he had worked very well, but it doesn’t necessarily last for many years. Robbie’s concern was that he might have to go up to Washington to have a big redo surgery,” said Dr. Harvey. “We decided to insert a tube to take the blood from the left arm down to the left leg. The good thing about that surgery is it is fairly simple and it doesn’t involve being in the hospital for weeks.”

Robbie was in the hospital for several days and was out of work for a few weeks while he recovered. Today, he and his brother, are both back to their normal lives. “We can do complex surgeries at the hospital now, that keep patients in the county,” said Dr. Harvey. “We can take care of things that have been fixed a long time ago and do the revision or the repeat procedure and people can recover very well. If we can find a surgery that can fix their problem and keep them in the county, I am sure they will be very happy.”

Non-Invasive Procedure to Repair Abdonimal Aortic Aneurysm Now Offered


During a follow-up visit with William Hubbard, vascular surgeon Arthur Flatau III, MD, talks with the veteran after a walk together at the VA Hospital’s campus in Charlotte Hall, Maryland. William is recuperating from an endovascular aneurysm repair (EVAR) performed by Dr. Flatau. Minimally invasive, EVAR surgery is now available conveniently close to home at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital.
During a follow-up visit with William Hubbard, vascular surgeon Arthur
Flatau III, MD, talks with the veteran after a walk together at the VA Hospital’s campus
in Charlotte Hall, Maryland. William is recuperating from an endovascular aneurysm
repair (EVAR) performed by Dr. Flatau. Minimally invasive, EVAR surgery is now available
conveniently close to home at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital.

EVAR Procedure Can Save Time, Travel and Lives

A newer, non-invasive surgical procedure to repair an abdominal aortic aneurysm is now being offered at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital, saving patients both recovery and travel time. The repair procedure is known as EVAR or endovascular aneurysm repair.

According to Arthur Flatau III, MD, vascular surgeon at MedStar St. Mary’s, an abdominal aortic aneurysm is a weakening in the body’s main artery.  Repairing an abdominal aortic aneurysm used to require a painful incision from the breast bone to the pubic bone and an extensive, complicated recovery, including days in intensive care and, quite possibly, time spent on a ventilator. It also meant traveling to Washington, D.C., or Baltimore for the procedure.

Thanks to stent technology, the surgeon now makes only a one or two inch-long incision and places a catheter inside the patient’s aorta. A device designed to support the artery from the inside and secure the weak artery is laced through the catheter.

“The recovery from an EVAR procedure is faster and much less painful than the traditional surgery,” said Dr. Flatau. “A healthy patient can typically go home in the next day or two.”

An aortic aneurysm may not cause symptoms until it begins to leak or expand. “A patient may happen to be undergoing diagnostic screenings for seemingly unrelated problems, such as back or kidney issues, before an aneurysm is detected,” said Dr. Flatau. 

For this reason, MedStar St. Mary’s offers free vascular screening programs twice a month at its medical office in Charlotte Hall, Maryland. During the ultrasound screenings, medical technicians look for carotid blockages or stenosis, aneurysms, and check the blood pressure of the arms and legs to ensure there are no blockages.

“I am pleased to work with MedStar St. Mary’s Perioperative Team and Interventional Radiology Team to deliver noninvasive EVAR surgery and other vascular procedures and preventive measures closer to home for our Southern Maryland patients,” said Dr. Flatau.

Now Open!

New Specialty Physicians Suite

The newly expanded Specialty Physicians at St. Mary’s suite on the second floor of the hospital’s Outpatient Pavilion is open. The combined suite of offices now encompasses an entire wing of the second floor, and offers additional exam, treatment and procedure rooms that allow for increased patient privacy. The space also includes a separate patient reception and waiting area as well as restrooms for patients.

The Specialty Physicians’ suite serves the patients of the following physicians:

Do you suffer from vascular disease? 

Learn more about conditions and treatment options here.

Surgeon One of Ten in Country Performing Shoulder Surgery


Leonardtown, Maryland – Peter Johnston, MD, an orthopedic surgeon on staff at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital is one of 10 surgeons in the United States and the only surgeon in the DelMarVa region to perform a new shoulder replacement surgery recently approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA).

The stemless shoulder replacement is a less painful and less invasive alternative to a stemmed shoulder replacement which is the most widely used procedure for shoulder conditions such as arthritis.

“The beauty of this system is that it is very simple,” said Dr. Johnston. “If you have to revise or change the implant, you have all the bone left below it — nothing has been violated and there is no cement to remove.”

Although the implant has only been approved by the FDA since March, systems like it have been used in Europe for more than a decade.

“People can always be skeptical of new devices, but there was a very stringent patient study performed before the FDA would even approve this,” Dr. Johnston said. “A small group of surgeons were involved in the study which looked at whether or not this was a good implant. They followed their patients for two years and they had no complications and no evidence of loosening.”

Dr. Johnston is featured in the Fall edition of MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital’s Healthy Living magazine. Healthy Living is a quarterly publication mailed to residents throughout the Southern Maryland region. Also in the current issue are features about the MedStar Breast Health Program, the Health Enterprise Zone, new outpatient services and upcoming MedStar events and classes.

About MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital
MedStar St. Mary's Hospital (MSMH) is a full-service community hospital, delivering state-of-the-art emergency, acute inpatient and outpatient care in Leonardtown, Maryland. Nestled in a waterside community, MedStar St. Mary's provides advanced technology with a dedication to excellence in all services provided. The not-for-profit hospital has been named among the nation’s Top 100 Hospitals™ and is an eight time recipient of the prestigious Delmarva Medicare Excellence Award. In addition, MSMH received the Maryland Performance Excellence award at the Platinum level in 2014 – the highest in the state. Our staff is committed to providing quality and compassionate medical care for all patients by coupling innovation with our outstanding team of Medical Staff members, associates and volunteers. 

Media Contact

Holly Meyer
Public Relations & Marketing Director
[email protected]
Phone: 301-475-6010

Peter Johnson, MD


Cataract Surgery: The CLEAR Choice

The lens of the eye is what focuses on an image until the brain can comprehend what the eyes are seeing. If you have a cataract, it will cloud the lens and cause blurred vision. The lens is made of a protein and water. As people age, the protein can clump together, forming a cataract. The most common type of cataract typically develops in a person around the age of 60, but does not actually affect the eyesight until around the age of 75.

Blurred vision is among the most common symptom. Along with that, people often report having poor night vision and seeing a “glare” or a “halo” when looking at lights, such as headlights or street lamps. Colors can seem to appear faded, and there could be double vision.

The best way to monitor your eye health is have an annual appointment with your eye care physician In order to diagnose the problem; your doctor will most likely perform a dilated eye exam, administering eye drops to widen the pupils to make it easier for the doctor to view potential problems. However, the other two ways to diagnose cataracts includes an eye chart test or through tonometry to measure the pressure inside of the eye.

Not all cataracts need treatment. Some are present without causing any of the nuisances associated with them. Any cataracts that need to be treated require cataract surgery to remove the cloudy lens. This entails a small incision along the cornea, then using small ultrasound waves to soften and break up the cataract. The dispersion of these proteins clears the cataract, resulting in clear vision.

If you suspect you have cataracts or have other issues with your vision, visit MedStar Eye Physicians. The board certified team of eye physicians has more than 75 combined years of experience.

You can call the MedStar Eye Physicians at 301-290-5915 to make your appointment. The practice is conveniently located at St. Mary's Medical Center at Charlotte Hall, 37767 Market Drive. For more information, go to

Learn more about ophthalmology at MedStar St. Mary's Hospital.

About MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital

MedStar St. Mary's Hospital is a full-service community hospital, delivering state-of-the-art emergency, acute inpatient and outpatient care in Leonardtown, Md. Nestled in a waterside community, MedStar St. Mary's provides advanced technology with a dedication to excellence in all services provided. The not-for-profit hospital has been named among the nation’s Top 100 Hospitals™ and is an eight time recipient of the prestigious Delmarva Medicare Excellence Award. Our staff is committed to providing quality and compassionate medical care for all patients by coupling innovation with our outstanding team of Medical Staff members, associates and volunteers. Visit to learn more.

About MedStar Health

MedStar Health is a not-for-profit health system dedicated to caring for people in Maryland and the Washington, D.C., region, while advancing the practice of medicine through education, innovation and research. MedStar’s 30,000 associates, 6,000 affiliated physicians, 10 hospitals, ambulatory care and urgent care centers, and the MedStar Health Research Institute are recognized regionally and nationally for excellence in medical care. As the medical education and clinical partner of Georgetown University, MedStar trains more than 1,100 medical residents annually. MedStar Health’s patient-first philosophy combines care, compassion and clinical excellence with an emphasis on customer service. For more information, visit

Media Contact

Holly Meyer
Public Relations & Marketing Director
[email protected]
Phone: 301-475-6010