With their daughter, Charlie Jo, a year and half old, Todd Israel and his wife, Jennifer, decided around the end of 2014 to have another child.
Israel attended a free information session at Mission Weight Management, and after going to the orientation in March, he “decided to go all in” — he was willing to take any measure, including surgery.
Weighing for the first time in 30 years, he was at 535 pounds. “I had a vision of my children growing up and I wasn’t going to be there,” said Israel. “Talk about an eye-opening experience.”
According to W. Alan Bradshaw, MD, FACS, general and bariatric surgeon, candidates for bariatric surgery have to have a body mass index (BMI) of 35-40 with health problems, or a BMI of 40 or above with or without health problems, to qualify for a procedure. Israel’s weight put him well above a BMI of 40.
After having an endoscopy, colonoscopy and a sleep apnea study, Sharon Hathaway, MD, of Mission Weight Management Center, told Israel he would have to lose 70 pounds before being referred to a surgeon. With his surgery scheduled for September, Israel lost another 30 pounds. “I lost a hundred pounds on my own — I was very proud of that,” he said. “So when I went in for surgery, I weighed 435 pounds.”
There are two primary types of bariatric surgery: laparoscopic Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, or simply “gastric bypass,” and laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy. Each procedure has advantages and disadvantages that should be weighed against a patient’s personal health status and history. Ultimately, it was determined that Israel should receive a sleeve gastrectomy.
After surgery, Israel had no complications. “Happy is not the word,” said Israel. “I feel like I got my life back, I feel like my future with my wife and my children is just limitless.” (Israel and his wife now have a second daughter, Emmy Lou.)
Today, Israel weighs 245 pounds and wears an XL instead of a 7X shirt. “I’d shout it from the rooftops,” he said. “Don’t hesitate to claim your life back. This is not the easy way out, it’s not taking a shortcut, it’s not something to be ashamed about. I found I put myself in a box and put limits on my life and my lifestyle without knowing it. I feel like part of my journey is to be an advocate for people diagnosed as morbidly obese — as ugly a word as that is. I want those people to take their lives back.”
For Israel, having bariatric surgery was one of the best decisions he ever made. He’s lost 290 pounds — down from 535. “And I hope I’m not done yet,” he said. Here are a few tips that helped him through his weight-loss journey.
- Don’t think of bariatric surgery as selfish. “People talk about this as a very selfish thing to do. I say it’s most selfless selfish thing you can do. It’s selfish because it’s all about me … but it’s selfless because of the rewards my children, my wife, my family and my friends get from me being healthy.”
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. “There’s nothing easy about this. Take a cold hard look at yourself in the mirror and be honest and say, ‘I need help.’ I feel bad for people who are like I was, allowing themselves to be boxed in on their own and not realizing there’s help out there.”
- Buy into the program. “[Mission Weight Management] knows what they’re talking about. They’re here to help us. The dietitian is the single most awakening thing I’ve ever experienced when it comes to food. Having someone explain to you your metabolism and why eating more often is better than skipping meals, and putting me on a food plan, and telling me if you follow this plan what can happen.”
- Attend the support groups. “There’s something about sitting in a group with someone who’s had the same experience I’ve had. When you start feeling something odd, and they can tell you, ‘I had this same experience.’ I got to 535 pounds all by myself, and it’s taken a whole group of people to get me to 245, so I can’t not continue with those groups if I want to have success.”
- Know your motivation. “I’m not going to tell you there’s not been down times, hard times. And I tell people in the group, ‘Whatever your motivation — and mine is my children — when times are tough, focus on that.’ If I’m tempted to get a donut, I might need to just pull out a picture of my family and say, ‘Is that donut worth it?’”
Alan Bradshaw, MD, FACS, is a general and bariatric surgeon at Regional Surgical Specialists, an affiliate of Mission Health. (828) 213-4100