Bariatric Surgery Helps Nurse Fulfill Lifelong Dream

November 19, 2019

meghan malecki denver health bariatric surgery

Nurse Meghan Malecki had a lifelong dream of becoming a flight nurse. There was just one problem: Her weight.

For safety reasons related to the helicopters' ability to fly and pick up patients, most flight nurse programs place height and weight restrictions on crew members, requiring that flight nurses weigh no more than 250 pounds, including clothing and medical equipment. While not her primary motivation, at 280 pounds, Malecki was not able to take that dream step in her career.

What finally prompted the former surgical intensive care unit (SICU) nurse at Denver Health to talk to her doctor about bariatric surgery, commonly known as weight-loss surgery, was a 2017 outing with her family.

"We were going up hiking up at altitude and I was really struggling keeping up with my kiddos and my family and had to stop because I was short of breath. And everyone was asking me if I was OK, and the focus was on me, rather than the day," Malecki said. "I felt fat and felt shame. At that point I decided I needed to make a change."

Watch Meghan Malecki talk about her struggle with her weight and how bariatric surgery helped her realize her lifelong dream of becoming a flight nurse.
Malecki's struggle with her weight went all the way back to 5th grade, but said her weight got "out of control" after having three kids. She tried going on medications, but that didn't work for her. Her primary care doctor recommended she see the expert team at the Denver Health Bariatric Surgery Center, many of whom she already knew as colleagues.

"Meghan's story is awesome," said Denver Health Bariatric Surgery Center Director Fredric Pieracci. Dr. Pieracci determined Malecki was a good candidate to have vertical sleeve gastrectomy surgery. Vertical sleeve gastrectomy surgery restricts the amount of food that can be eaten by creating a small pouch in the stomach. Unlike the Roux-en-Y procedure, it does not change how the stomach attaches to the small intestines. Dr. Pieracci said that she had a phenomenal response to the surgery.

"She lost the weight necessary (to begin the surgery), went through the training and is now a kick-butt flight nurse who delivers the sickest patients by helicopter to Denver Health and other Denver-area hospitals," Dr. Pieracci said proudly.

Meghan Malecki
Meghan Malecki became a flight nurse with AirLife Denver after having bariatric surgery at Denver Health.
Malecki lost more than a hundred pounds after her surgery and has kept it off. She became a flight nurse with AirLife Denver and has continued to work part-time at Denver Health in the Emergency Department.

Beyond the weight loss, there are other things that make her quality of life better.

"I fit into airplane seats now," Malecki remarked.

Malecki also has become much more active after her surgery, and is now an avid runner, recently completing two half marathons and three 10K runs. She even ran the Colfax Half-Marathon with her surgeon, Dr. Pieracci.

"It was amazing to be running side-by-side with her," Dr. Pieracci said, smiling.

"When I crossed the finish line, my family was cheering me on, ringing cowbells and it was good – it was so good," Malecki reflected.

Malecki called the care she received from the Denver Health Bariatric Surgery Center team "astonishing." More than that – they helped her realize that lifelong career dream.

"I truly do not think that I would be a flight nurse without having had surgery, without Dr. Pieracci in my corner, without the whole team that had got me to that point – I don't think I would be a flight nurse at all. I'd be happy, but I wouldn't be living my dream," Malecki confirmed.

Get Started by Watching Our Informational Video