The Wright Center Shares Obesity Weight Loss Story

Due to her weight, Julianna Morse limited her life.

She wouldn’t get on a bicycle and sometimes didn’t dare to step on a ladder. Even a trip with her children to the amusement park was daunting because of her struggle with obesity.

“Your biggest fear is you sit in the ride, and the safety restraint doesn’t close,” says Morse, who is raising two children. “And then you have to get up in front of all these people and get off the ride. Why would I set myself up to be embarrassed and to feel worse?”

The Forest City resident finally found the weight-loss support she needed at The Wright Center for Community Health – a provider of whole-person primary health services, including obesity medicine and lifestyle medicine.

She is now adjusting to a new normal: about 160 pounds lighter than a few years ago.

For Morse, 38, that means she has been learning to live – after a lifetime of apprehension about her body size – with greater freedom and fewer self-doubts. Her Wright Center care team, led by Dr. Jumee Barooah, helps to manage her thyroid levels and focus on maintaining a realistic target weight. She also turns to the team for nutritional advice and assistance with other physical and behavioral health issues.

“Honestly, I enjoy coming to The Wright Center,” she says. “I know they’re going to listen to me and they’re going to help.”

About three years ago, for example, Morse underwent bariatric surgery – a major procedure in which changes are made to the digestive system to promote weight loss. The decision didn’t come easily or quickly. She spoke with Dr. Barooah about her hesitancy, and the physician stood by her through a few false starts, referring Morse to first one, then another surgeon.

Morse refers to that surgery, which was performed by a Geisinger team, as a “tool,” not a magical cure, for her condition. That’s why she continues to work with The Wright Center’s health care providers for physical, emotional, and nutritional support.

“Weight management is a complicated thing,” says Morse. “People will tell you, ‘Oh, just watch what you eat and exercise.’ But it’s not that simple.”

Reshaping views on obesity

Obesity – often called the nation’s most prevalent chronic disease – is associated with several of the leading causes of preventable, premature death. Yet physicians and patients are sometimes hesitant to address the sensitive topic directly, and there is concern in the medical community that unconscious weight bias has too often prevented patients from receiving the proper care plans.

Fortunately, the medical community has begun to re-examine its approach to obesity.

The Wright Center, in an effort to best serve its patients with weight-related illnesses, now employs four board-certified obesity medicine physicians: Drs. Barooah, Linda Thomas-Hemak (who is also president and CEO of The Wright Centers for Community Health and Graduate Medical Education), Manju Mary Thomas, and Nirali Patel.

These specially trained doctors consider the many complex, sometimes intertwined, factors that can contribute to excessive weight gain – genetic, environmental, behavioral, nutritional, etc. – and then develop a personalized weight-loss solution for each patient.

“By recognizing obesity as a multifactorial disease,” says Dr. Barooah, “today’s medical professionals are prepared to give patients the facts and the tools they need to take charge of their health and manage their condition.”

Since January 2021, more than 925 patients seen by The Wright Center’s obesity medicine-trained physicians have achieved weight loss. Collectively, these patients have dropped more than 16,000 pounds.

By reducing excess body fat, people will typically see cosmetic changes. More importantly, they will be on track to improving their overall well-being, reducing the risk of developing health problems such as heart disease, liver disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, and certain cancers.

“The good news,” according to the Mayo Clinic, “is that even modest weight loss can improve or prevent the health problems associated with obesity.”

For children and adolescents with obesity – who, in too many cases, get teased, bullied, or ostracized by their peers – treatment can improve not only their physical well-being but also their social and emotional development.

The disease puts young people at increased risk for anxiety, depression, and many other serious health issues, including nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Dr. Thomas, who is dually board certified in pediatrics and obesity medicine, treats her young patients at The Wright Center by prescribing appropriate and compassionate care plans that work for the patient and their families.

“Through our team-based approach, we try to address all the underlying issues,” says Dr. Thomas. “It’s beneficial to act early because we realize that children who have obesity are more likely to carry the condition over into adulthood.”

‘Constantly being judged’

Morse knows all too well the scrutiny, and cruelty, faced by larger-than-average children. “I’ve always been heavy,” she says.

“When I was in sixth grade, they had me see a nutritionist,” recalls Morse, a Simpson native. “I would write down everything I ate during the week, and then every Friday, I would meet her at the nurse’s office and go over it with her.”

The one-on-one meetings during the school day were just another source of humiliation for a young girl already coping with her classmates’ ridicule and name-calling.

In addition to calorie counting, she tried many other weight-loss methods through the years: WeightWatchers as well as apps like My Fitness Pal, Noom, and Lose It! (She’s currently using the Carb Counter app.)

During a stint after college, Morse lost weight through an exercise regimen that involved going to the gym two hours a day, seven days a week. If she opted out of going to the gym one day, she’d walk seven or more miles instead.

But for Morse, each victory was short-lived. No matter what she tried, the weight would return when her schedule or priorities shifted because of parenthood, career, and life pressures. “You do good for a little bit, lose 20 pounds. Then all of a sudden, something happens, and, uh, you’re back up where you were before,” she says. “It’s just a see-saw effect, teetering all over.”

As her weight fluctuated, Morse experienced emotional highs and lows. Her inner voice has, at times, worked against her best interests, and she has often wrestled with nagging thoughts about how people perceive her abilities – and her very essence – simply because of her size.

“You feel,” says Morse, “as if you’re constantly being judged.”

Moving beyond old limits

At The Wright Center, Morse began routinely receiving medication in 2014 to control her thyroid. She continues to have her thyroid levels checked routinely.

She resisted the notion of surgery for a while, telling herself she should be able to control her weight purely with willpower. Now that she has had the procedure, Morse believes it was the correct option for her — not to imply that it made her life, or even her diet, perfect.

She still needs to be selective about foods and carefully chew each biteful to avoid digestive troubles. She began seeing a neurologist for help in controlling migraines. And she continues to sometimes cope with body dysmorphia, picturing herself as heavier than she really is.

The Wright Center team works closely with Morse, giving her the necessary care for each issue or, for certain matters, referring her to local experts. As Morse sees it, any form of obesity surgery – much like the suddenly popular new “weight-loss drugs” seen on social media – is only one part of a combination of tactics that must be used together to keep weight in check.

Her condition demands her ongoing attention. After all, she says, “I have 38 years of bad habits that are hard to break.”

Morse has seen and felt major improvements in the past few years because of the treatments and lifestyle changes she has embraced. “I can work 60 hours a week now and not feel like I got hit by a tractor-trailer,” she says.

Her improved stamina has also been apparent to her when hiking with her best friend in the Moosic Lakes area. No more huffing and puffing as she walks up hills, she says. Plus, last summer, the duo even paddled boats across the water – an experience that, until recently, would have seemed improbable because of her fear of getting stuck in an embarrassing situation.

“Before my weight loss,” says Morse, “you would have never caught me trying to get in a kayak.”

For information about obesity medicine and other whole-person primary health services available at The Wright Center for Community Health, visit


Lackawanna County native Julianna Morse, seen here during phases of her weight-loss journey, has dropped 160 pounds in recent years while getting medical, nutritional, and other support at The Wright Center for Community Health. ‘Weight management is a complicated thing,’ she says.