"I grew up in an old school family that didn’t have much for money. We were taught to value each meal and to not waste a morsel as we were told, “Some people can’t afford lima beans so eat”. My response of, “Well send it to them” usually was met with strong disagreement from my father. I played sports throughout childhood an teen years and had a metabolism like most young people. As my metabolism slowed down, my weight began to go up from age 20 to the present. I became the expert at yoyo dieting. I could become the most focused person around and lose 35-50lbs. In a year’s time however, unfortunately I could never keep it off. While I could lose weight with most diets I could never sustain it. I even tried hypnotism, therapy and Overeaters Anonymous.
Through these years I learned a lot about myself but I continually beat myself up for being a failure. I admired people who kept a healthy weight throughout the years and still maintained great life balance. In turn I felt ashamed of who I was. I wondered how through all of life’s many challenges and stresses they could still keep that balance, but in seeing the big picture, most didn’t have balance. You see, I don’t drink alcohol at all, never smoked and even barely drink a carbonated beverage… I’m a bore. However, my “vice”, “cheat”, whatever you might call it is food. I would eat when I celebrated, when stressed, when relieved, or bored, etc. The other problem is that when the stresses added up, my off switch never worked. Therapy has taught me that I have a bucket full of PTSD which has accumulated over a 25 year career as a firefighter/paramedic. I’m not crazy (So he swearsJ ) but I do a fairly decent job trying to manage my stress now. While others that I admired needed those beers or drinks, cigarettes or caffeine to de-stress, I needed food. I’m no different than them. The tough part of food however, is that we need it to live.
About 4 years after my mother died at age 67, I found myself battling harder to achieve a healthy body weight and to give myself a chance at a longer and richer quality of life than my mother and father. Each time I tried, I succeeded and promptly derailed for a variety of reasons. 3 years ago a few relatives recommended I consider weight loss surgery. They both had terrific results and have sustained their weight and health for the first time in their lives, long term. My immediate reaction was, “I can do it on my own!” I thought I’d be too embarrassed at the stigma attached to overweight people and especially those seeking surgery. Those looks and judgments I got when someone hadn’t seen me for a while or the attitude that was prevalent in some that have thankfully never had to battle this issue. These people were saying “Why don’t you just stop eating” and “surgery is the easy way out”. Thinking of this, I just couldn’t get over my embarrassment. I’ve always been independent, someone that helps others and doesn’t ask for help taking care of myself. “I can do this on my own!”
On February 6, 2014 Uncle Wally died after his battle with leukemia. In his last days he pleaded with me to take care of myself better. He told me as much as he admired my helping others, he was worried. “You’re going to put yourself in a box” he said if I didn’t find the way to turn things around. So in June I continued a journey that started with much research, talking to people, etc. and began my entry into the Tufts bariatric surgery program.
On September 8, 2014 I had gastric sleeve surgery performed by Dr. Julie Kim at Tufts Medical Center. I went into surgery with the following statistics:
- Weight - 306 lbs.
- Blood Pressure – 180/110, on medications to decrease it.
- High Cholesterol, Fluid retention in my lower legs, undiagnosed sleep apnea, seasonal allergies, acid reflux, early stages of diabetes and a drawer full of medications.
- September 13, 2015 my stats are “slightly” different
- Weight- 219 lbs.
- Blood pressure- a healthy 112/70 NO MEDICATIONS
- Cholesterol- lowest it’s been in 20 years, fluid retention gone, sleeping full nights, and those allergy symptoms have gone away completely, apparently from silent acid reflux symptoms previously.
I currently take a high dose multivitamin and calcium chews twice per day…..that’s it, NO MEDS.
When I moved forward with this surgery I knew fully that this procedure was a tool or factory reset so to speak. I knew it would not fix what’s inside my head and that I’d have to battle this for the rest of my life. I’ve worked hard to make sure my 2nd chance is not wasted. I set some goals for myself as I’ve learned that if we don’t dangle the carrot out in front of us a bit, we can get stale and stagnant quickly.
My first goal was to run 1 mile by the time I turned age 50 in April, 2015. I easily reached this goal through slow and steady exercise and running a few times per week. It was at this point that I knew I wanted to reach further. 25 years ago I ran a 5k or 3.1 mile road race for what I “thought” was my last time. I decided that I’d pursue a goal of completing a 5k if my knees would hold up after 5 knee surgeries 20 years ago. There were ups and downs in my running, but as I got closer to the day of the race, I secretly thought,”I just plan on finishing, but I really want to beat my time from when I was 25 years-old”. The race went well as I beat my previous time from 25 years ago by 2.5 minutes!!
The race was a great moment, but the true highlight of this entire journey is the quality of life I now have. My energy level is through the roof, my overall mood and patience is brighter, but most importantly I’ve gained a confidence in myself that I’m still that man that can accomplish anything…. just a few decades older. My overall health is giving me hope for a longer life and my job performance is that much greater. A friend joked with me that my new name is “Benjamin Buttons”, because I’m aging in reverse. All of these compliments and accolades are wonderful, but the bottom line is that I’m so grateful for this chance. I truly believe this procedure and Dr. Kim were lifesavers for me. Are there days when I fight bad habits from the past? Absolutely, but I step back and refer to my lessons I learned from the team at Tufts. When people tell me how thin I look, I look at them sincerely and say, “I’m a fat guy in recovery and a work in progress”.
Jill Regan asked me how I would measure my success in the future if I didn’t have a scale. My answer is that I’m living like I hoped to have lived years before and enjoying the little things more. Walking, running, dancing, activities with my family and challenging myself to do things I was unable to do before. Ask yourself this question, “What is the value of feeling and living 25 years younger?” My quality of life is my scale.
My running continues, but as the winter will be upon us quickly, I won’t be as active running outdoors. My goal is to renew my racquetball skills and potentially getting back on the ice to play a few pickup hockey games with my son.
I’m far from someone to be handing out advice, but I pass along to anyone at the end of your rope with the battle, don’t give up, EVER! There’s help and people that are there for you at Tufts. Don’t beat yourself up as we all have battles that make us human. Don’t lose your sense of humor and definitely don’t lose the importance of loving yourself. You owe it to yourself and those that love you to be the best you can be and live as long a life as possible."