Grams' Weight Loss

When Grandad and Grams got married in 1975, I was 21 years old and weighed 118 pounds. My wedding dress was a size 8 that had to be taken in.

In 1979, we had our fist baby and I gained 79 pounds during that first pregnancy. I was never overweight before then. I lost about 50 pounds before my second pregnancy in 1981. I actually lost weight during that pregnancy. Since then, I've never been able to keep it off. Several times I lost most of the weight, just to gain back even more.

I've tried every diet from Weight Watchers to cabbage soup and Atkins to South Beach. All of them worked, but only until I couldn't stand them any more. As soon as I quit any diet I put all the weight back on and usually more.

Morbid obesity is a family tradition. My parents were both "big" as long as I can remember. My dad's sisters were also morbidly obese. I am the fifth child in a family of six; only one of the six would not qualify as morbidly obese. I have watched my whole family struggle with weight my whole life.

Pre-op at 300 pounds
In July of 2006 I left a job I'd had for 32 years. I was faced with the daunting task of looking for a job for the first time since I was in my teens. At the time, I weighed 300 pounds. It's also relevant to mention that I'm 5'1" tall. 300 pounds is a lot for anyone, but for someone that short, it's huge.

At 300 pounds I could not walk across a parking lot without stopping to rest. I could not shop with my daughter or even walk around the block without extreme pain in my knees. I was taking medication for high blood pressure and had recently been diagnosed as pre-diabetic. In addition, emotionally, I could not face another diet. I could not stand the thought of failing at another diet. I always felt like the fattest person in any room. I thought that people watched anytime I ate anything and judged me for eating when I was so fat.

I had two friends who had both had gastric bypass surgery and both had been very successful. I owe so much to by brother-in-law's very good friend who opened up to me about how weight loss surgery had changed his life. He told me his story, which was a pretty scary story. He almost died from a post-operative leak. But he made it clear that it was so worthwhile and that, even with the complications, he would do it again.

After talking with him, I found the courage to go to a free seminar offered by my surgeon, Dr. Nilesh Patel. Dr. Patel met one-on-one with every person who attended the informational seminar. I still wasn't sure, but I was beginning to be more confident that weight loss surgery was something I wanted to do.

A month later, we drove to San Antonio and attended the same seminar again. This time I took Grandad and our daughter with me. They heard the entire presentation and went through the one-on-one meeting with me. Dr. Patel took the time to answer all their questions. I met with a psychiatrist for a short evaluation and started my pre-operative tests. I left that day with orders for an extensive battery of tests to be completed in my hometown. They included an EKG, extensive blood tests, and many other tests that I don't remember. It took me almost two months to get them all done and submitted for approval.

I was very lucky. Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Massachusetts approved my application on my first try. Most patients are not so lucky. Many have to complete six-month pre-application diets that must be monitored by their physicians.

My surgery was scheduled for September 27, 2006. On September 12, I started a liquid protein diet. All except one meal a day was replaced with liquid protein. Once a day I was allowed a small meal consisting of one piece of lean meat the size of the palm of my hand and one vegetable. I lost 25 pounds in that two week period. On surgery day, I weighed 275 pounds.

The surgery I had is commonly known as gastric bypass. Formally it's called Roux-En-Y. It involves reducing the size of the stomach and shortening the digestive tract. It makes my system malabsorptive which means I don't tolerate sugar or fat. The ugly truth of being malabsorptive is that when I do eat sugar and/or fat, and I occasionally do, I get sick. It sometimes makes me vomit or gives me diarrhea. It also gives me a lovely little experience called "dumping." Symptoms of dumping include nausea, vomiting, bloating, cramping, diarrhea, dizziness, fatigue, and rapid heartbeat. It's not pleasant and I've learned to eat right to avoid it.

My surgery was uneventful and I expected to be in the hospital 2-3 days and then be released to go home. However, when they tried to get me out of bed the morning after surgery, my blood pressure plummeted and I collapsed and passed out. Fortunately, the nurse helping me get up was a big, burly guy who was strong enough to catch me and get me back on the bed. Then began a three-day challenge to stabilize my blood pressure, which included several transfusions. I felt so bad that I was also regretting the decision to have this elective surgery.

I had my surgery at Innova Hospital in San Antonio which, at the time, was a 4-bed hospital dedicated solely to weight loss surgery. From Friday night through my release on Monday morning, I was the only patient in the hospital. It was eerie and a little frightening. My 2-3 day stay had turned into 5 days.

By the time I was released from the hospital I had begun a daily walking regimen designed to help me recover from major abdominal surgery. I had to stick to my liquid diet for three weeks. After the third week, I was able to begin eating soft foods. When I went for my 3-week post op appointment I had lost 42 pounds.

It was a challenge to learn how to eat again. I had to learn to take very small bites and eat very slowly. By Halloween I was eating real food which led to one of my most interesting post-op stories.

Grandad made a meat crust pizza. It's a lowfat recipe from the South Beach Diet. It tasted so good. I had been craving pizza and this seemed like it would be a good substitute. After about four bites I realized that it was not going to stay down. I ran to the bathroom where I threw up until I had dry heaves. I threw up so hard that I actually ruptured blood vessels in my face. My whole face was red and hurt. I put a cold compress on my face and went to bed early. Imagine my surprise when I looked in the mirror the next morning and had two black eyes. I looked like someone had punched me when two Jehovah's Witness ladies rang my doorbell around 2 p.m. I can only imagine what they thought when they saw my black eyes.

4 years post-op - 187 pounds
Since then I've learned how to tell when my body is giving me signals about my eating. I lost 125 pounds initially. I gained about 27 pounds back which completely freaked me out. After that I got serious about eating right and lost 17 of those pounds.

I went from a size 26 or 3XL to a 12 or 14 in pants and a medium or large in blouses and dresses. My knees still bother me, but not so much. I can walk several miles and do many things that I couldn't do before. I'm particularly proud of my climb up Enchanted Rock. I'm also proud that I've been able to maintain my weight loss.

I feel normal. I don't feel like the fattest person in the room any more. I learned to cook so I can control what I put in my body. I eat a high protein, low carbohydrate diet with lean meats, eggs and vegetables. I rarely eat bread because it's too filling. I eat a minimal amount of potatoes and pasta. I indulge with two pieces of dark chocolate every night after dinner.

My face has undergone some changes too. This shows the progression of my face. Clockwise from the top left the photos were taken May of 2006, January 2007, June 2007 and July 2007. I used to laughingly tell people that I didn't have wrinkles because the fat filled them up. Turns out I may have been right. 

In addition to looking and feeling better, I am no longer pre-diabetic and I am off all the medication I was on before surgery except my blood pressure medication. My dosage of that has been cut in half.

Gastric bypass surgery is not for the faint of heart. It's not a walk in the park and it is not "the easy way out." It requires a complete lifestyle change and a lifetime commitment. But, given the same circumstances, I would do it again. It put me in charge of my body and it changed my life.