Drastic Times Call For Drastic Measures

by Tonya Luiz
(Merced, CA)

Laparoscopic Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, Feb. 24, 2005, 2 yrs. 10 mos. ago
Starting weight: 335/BMI: 58 Current weight: 135-145/BMI: 24-25

Bariatric surgery was a last-ditch effort for me. Having been morbidly obese my entire life (I weighed 200 pounds when I was 10 years old), I didn't know any other way to be. So my motivation was not to be thin; that was too foreign a concept. I was just tired of feeling like I was 80 years old before I was even 30.

The straw that broke the camel's back, so to speak, was the diagnosis of obesity-related infertility. That was my own private turning point, when my weight became an issue that was no longer about me. It was standing in the way of my husband and the family we wanted to have.

Because I feared being thin, I always had one foot out the door as I explored bariatric surgery. I was always looking for some reason not to do it. I pored over research, so much so that I began to chronicle my research and experiences in a newspaper column that later segued into a blog.

Try as I might, though, I never found any horror stories that made the risks associated with surgery outweigh the potential benefits.

But maybe I feel that way because I went into surgery with both eyes wide open. I knew of every possible complication; I also knew that if I didn't do something to get the weight off, I would die slowly, painfully and unable to care for myself. Talk about a motivating factor.

My recovery from surgery was easy. I had no trouble assimilating into my new eating habits. I had no complications, no regrets. That track record ended about two years after I had RNY.

I found myself undergoing emergency surgery for a bowel obstruction related to my gastric-bypass. I had lost so much weight that I had also lost fatty tissue from around my intestines. This created loops, which allowed my intestines to tangle and knot up. I was pretty close to death when the problem was diagnosed. However, even in the midst of the most debilitating pain of my life and the slow, arduous recovery that followed, I never regretted my decision to have gastric-bypass surgery.

Yes, I could have died; I almost did. And I know struggles with hypoglycemia and anemia -- health issues I didn't have as a pre-op. But the fact is that one day at a healthy weight is better than decades of feeling like survival was more of an effort than I could bear.

It's no longer a chore to move about the world, to lie in bed, to get on the floor and play with children. I still struggle with taking my vitamins daily but getting adequate protein is a no-brainer. I feel good; I think I look good and I haven't had any cosmetic surgery to accomplish that (I'm not opposed to it; just haven't done it).

Maybe I feel this way because I had never been a normal weight so I had no clue what that was like. This is truly a brand-new world for me. Or maybe I feel this way because I knew exactly what my risks were before having surgery and I readily accepted them. Regardless, I know I made the best possible decision for me that I could have.

This is not the right answer for everyone. You have to want to succeed more than anything you've ever wanted in life. You have to be willing to make the permanent lifestyle changes required for long-term success. So many people "fail" at surgery because they view it as a diet; something to follow until they reach goal weight and can eat "normally." The fact is that the morbidly obese person's view of "normal" is skewed by years of abusing food and our bodies. We have to redefine the term for ourselves, rather than allow others to define it for us.

Aside from that, I have one last word of caution: Truly evaluate your reasons for wanting surgery and make sure they are reasons that are strong enough to make it a worthwhile risk even if things don't pan out like you expect. Take me, for example. I went into surgery with the hopes of reversing infertility. It wasn't my only reason for having surgery, but it was the driving force. Now three years after gastric-bypass, guess what? I'm still infertile. Only now since docs can't blame it on my weight, they refer to it as "unexplained." I think a different person would be angry, feel deceived. After all, my OB/GYN assured me losing weight would remedy my fertility issues.

But I'm not angry at all, because I needed to lose weight. I needed to lose a lot of weight and I needed to do it quickly. Sure, I didn't get the results I was expecting. But there are no guarantees in life. I'm content with the hand I've been dealt and I'm grateful for the gift of gastric-bypass and the blessings it's enabled me to experience.

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Wow, Tonya
by: Suzette Kroll Barancik, RD

Hey, everybody, is Tonya a great writer or what?

There's a lot I love about your account. For one thing, the reminders you offer everyone. DON'T embark on this surgery without researching all the possible risks. If you don't KNOW all the bad stuff that could happen to you, you shouldn't be doing something - whether it's weight loss surgery or scuba diving.

Another part of your pre-op research and prep that struck me was your acceptance that this was going to be involve "PERMANENT lifestyle changes." I too worry that too many people go into weight loss surgery engaged in magical thinking - it's going to be easy and without complications; it's going to make EVERYTHING all better.

I'm also struck by your positivity, and the fact that you've maintained despite NOT getting all the outcomes you wanted.

There is no substitute for educating YOURSELF on the subject of WLS, and thank you Tonya for making that clear! (And, may I add, it's crazy to go forward if you haven't already tried every less drastic method to lose weight, including consulting with a Registered Dietitian.)

Like I said, Tonya: wow. Thank you.

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