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Bariatric Surgery Helped Me Regain an Active Lifestyle

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Posted by Leonard R.

In 2017, one of my most embarrassing moments became a catalyst for one of my best decisions. On that day, I was boarding a plane with my family to Walt Disney World® when I realized that you could not raise the arm rests for the front row seats I had reserved. As a result, I couldn’t fit into my seat.

Having to get off a plane because of my weight was truly embarrassing, but it was a turning point in my life that I really needed. I had to do something. I had to change my health and my outlook. That “something” would be weight-loss surgery at Temple.

A frustrating way to live

For most of my 56 years, I’ve been an active guy. I played semi-pro baseball, and I refereed and coached youth sports. But I began to gain weight in my 30s. Then a sciatic nerve injury kept me from exercising for well over a year. Before I knew it, I carried over 450 pounds on my 6-foot frame. I tried to lose weight through diet and exercise, but it didn’t work.

It wasn’t long before my weight was hurting my health and quality of life. My knees hurt constantly. I had trouble getting out of bed, and in and out of the truck that I drive for a living. I fell and injured myself three times. I was often breathless, and it took me longer than other drivers to do certain tasks. I was sure I’d have to quit my job if something didn’t change.

On that 2017 trip to Walt Disney World, I couldn’t go on the rides with my then 7-year-old son. That was really tough. My weight was affecting every aspect of my life — professionally and personally. It was just a frustrating way to live.

As I began to consider the possibility of having weight-loss surgery, I went online and found the Bariatric Program at Temple. I learned that I might be a candidate for weight-loss surgery, based on my body mass index (BMI) and other coexisting conditions, like sleep apnea.

Starting a journey

I chose Temple because they have a great reputation in the community, and they were close to my home. I met with my bariatric team, including a dietitian, surgeon, and nurse practitioner. They helped me understand the changes I would have to make as part of my commitment to my plan. I loved my bariatric team – they made the process easy and comfortable.

To prepare for my bariatric surgery, I’d need to start losing some weight before the procedure. The Temple dietitian helped me a lot. I used to drink four to five sweetened teas per day, but I learned to enjoy water instead of empty-calorie, sweetened drinks. I started to cut out fried foods too. Overall, I started to change the way I thought about food and how it affected me.

Within six weeks, I lost 32 pounds. My mind was blown! I went on to shed 76 additional pounds before my surgery date. Looking back, I realize that learning to change my diet before the surgery made it easier for me to adopt my new lifestyle changes after my surgery.

Surgery time

In December 2019, I underwent laparoscopic gastric bypass surgery, performed by Dr. Rohit Soans.

The surgery and my recovery went well. After my gastric bypass, I eventually also had body contouring surgery — performed by Dr. Xi Lin Jing, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon, to remove excess skin from my abdomen.

These days, I weigh around 249 pounds — just below my personal goal weight of 252 pounds. (For added motivation, I chose the goal weight of 252 because I’m a huge fan of former pro wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin, who wrestled at that weight range). But I’m not really focused on a number – I am just aiming to be as healthy as possible for the rest of my life. And as long as I keep exercising regularly and following a healthy diet, I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.

A changed life

My life has changed in numerous ways as a result of my bariatric surgery and my healthy, active lifestyle. My weight-related sleep apnea has improved, so I’m able to rest more easily. And generally, I just feel so much better. There are many different things I’m able to do and so many things I’m looking forward to, that sometimes my enthusiasm about what I want to do next almost overwhelms me!

Since my bariatric surgery, I have been able to participate in the Great Cycle Challenge USA - a fundraiser for the Children’s Cancer Research Fund. Previously, I rode 504 miles on my bike, raising $2,300 for the charity. For many years, I thought I would never ride a bike again. Now, it has become a part of my daily life. I’m also enjoying golfing again, as well as umpiring baseball games and officiating basketball games.

One of the best parts of my weight loss is that I’m able to be more active with my family again — whether it’s walking in the mall or racing go-karts together, I’m not left sidelined.

Why I’m sharing my story

Bariatric surgery is not a quick fix. You have to stay committed, even through bad days. But you won’t be alone. I’m grateful for the support of my Temple team who were there whenever I had questions. And if I'm not looking for support from them, I’m looking to the bariatric surgery support group meetings at Temple, where I enjoy offering my support to others, just as members of the group have supported and motivated me.

My wife has always been there for me too — since long before my surgery journey began. Her love and respect for me never changed. When you get that type of support, it really helps. She even changed her own eating habits so that I don’t have to be around tempting foods.

I’ve learned a lot, including that in order to change the outside, you have to change the inside. You have to change your thought process. I know everyone’s experience is different, but I hope I can help someone, even just one person, by sharing my experience. This journey, although it may not be easy, can have great rewards.

Next, I’m looking forward to taking my son back to Walt Disney World. This time will be different. This time I won’t just watch him have fun. This time we’ll have fun on the rides together.

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