Ascension Via Christi helps mental health advocate live life again


If you ask Sabrina Cole who she relies upon for her medical care, she’ll quickly tell you that she has a whole whole team.

"All of them are Ascension and all of them are awesome," says Sabrina, who at 42 has worked with Nicole Riddell, MD, her primary care physician, to address a number of complex medical issues.

For example, when Sabrina began having heart palpitations following a surgery in March 2020, Dr. Riddell referred her to Andre Saad, MD, a cardiologist at Ascension Medical Group Via Christi on Murdock.

"Dr. Saad listened to my concerns and helped me understand that the issues I was having were also tied to my weight," says Sabrina.

To help her manage her blood pressure, Dr. Saad prescribed Sabrina medication.

"At my next appointment with Dr. Riddell, my oxygen levels were still low," she says. Dr. Riddell arranged for her to see pulmonologist Awaad Abu-Samra, MD, who found cysts in her lungs.

After viewing the results of her CT scan, Dr. Abu-Samra recommended that the cysts be monitored through twice a year check-ups.

"That gave me further anxiety about my health and also affected my motivation to get healthier," she says, and her weight rose to 428 pounds from inactivity and depression.

Around the start of the new year, Sabrina began to feel more hopeful as COVID-19 was on the decline and ready to take charge of her health. In April, she got her COVID-19 vaccination. She also signed up for Ascension Via Christi’s Weight Management and Surgical Weight Loss program and began the required pre-surgical education and lifestyles training. Her goal was to lose enough weight to have gastric bypass surgery.

In May, she began the Pulmonary Rehabilitation program at Ascension Via Christi St. Francis.

"At Pulmonary Rehab, you’re monitored and educated constantly by the staff," says Sabrina. "I re-learned how to work out safely and I had more confidence about exercising."

Sabrina completed the Weight Management and Pulmonary Rehab programs in June.

"My breathing improved significantly, I lost 30 pounds and I was able to focus on the final parts of preparation for my gastric bypass surgery," says Sabrina, who now sees Dr. Abu-Samra once a year due to her improvement. "I was finally getting my life back."

On Aug. 23, she had her surgery at St. Francis. Today, 65 pounds lighter than she was at the beginning of 2021, she now feels like she’s back to living fully.

"I’m back to going to school, leaving my house and not feeling so isolated," says Sabrina, who works part-time at the Breakthrough Club, where as a member she also receives mental health support. "Because my physical health improved, so did my mental health."

Despite the surging pandemic, she says she feels better equipped to handle any future challenges.

"Even though I’m vaccinated, my lungs overall are in a better state to handle something like that," says Sabrina. "Because of the other people I met and the encouraging staff, I realized, and hope others do too, that you’re never alone in any journey like this."

As Sabrina looks back, she’s thankful to have had the support of a collaborative team of professionals who truly cared about her improvement.

"Whoever hired the staff at Pulmonology Rehab hired the right group of people," says Sabrina, adding that the same holds true for the rest of Ascension Via Christi care team.

"My quality of life is so much better now," says Sabrina. "I feel so much less secluded and more like I’m back to living."