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KJ and Mike Two Years after Weight Loss Surgery

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KJ and Mike have both had gastric bypass surgery. Both had the type of procedure in which the stomach is made smaller and parts of the small intestine are closed off as well. KJ had her operation in October 2000, and Mike had his in April 2001. We talked with them last year about how the surgery had gone for them, how they had been dealing with the adjustments they had to make in their food intake and how the weight loss was going.

At the time, they were feeling good. They had both lost a lot of weight and were feeling physically better. Mike no longer took medication to control his cholesterol or diabetes, and KJ didn’t need her asthma medication anymore. They both had more energy than they used to.

Our last question to them was, “What advice would you have for people thinking of having the surgery today?” KJ answered, “Don’t look at it as a miracle. It’s a tool. You still need to watch what you eat. And if you can lose weight any other way, you should try that first.”

Mike, on the other hand, said he would tell anyone to “go for it.”

Would they still have the same advice? Are they still feeling good? Have they managed to keep the weight off? Are they experiencing complications?

We decided to check back in with them for answers to these questions.

How they’re feeling…
“I feel good,” says Mike, “but I’m having problems with my back. I just had an MRI, and it showed some problems with the discs in the spine and some misalignment.” He explains that that can happen when you experience “massive weight loss in a short period of time.” Mike’s hoping that physical therapy will be enough to get his back in better shape.

“I have to be honest and say that part of the reason I’m having this problem is that I didn’t have a regular exercise program like I was supposed to. I do so much more now than I used to—I park far away so that I walk more, I go down stairs (going up hurts my knees), I built a deck at my house. In my mind, I thought I was getting enough exercise just because I was so much more active.

“One other problem I have is that I have a lot of extra skin around my belly. I’m hoping to get a tummy tuck operation in April of 2003. All that extra skin can rub and cause rashes and infections.”

And KJ? “I feel good too,” she says. “I have a little bit of back pain, but it’s not bad. I do have a friend who also had the surgery, and she just got approval to have a tummy tuck and breast reduction. You can really have trouble with that extra skin. Sores can develop, things rub together.”

How’s the weight thing going?
KJ and Mike told us before that they don’t like to talk numbers. But KJ says she hasn’t gained any weight since our last conversation. “I’d like to lose more, but….” she trails off. So that’s where KJ is: holding steady, feeling good.

Mike says, “I hit my low in March/April, and I’ve gained back 15 to 20 pounds. That’s expected. I’m considered heavy now, not obese.”

In our last discussion, Mike had mentioned that he intended to quit smoking. He wasn’t ready then. “One vice at a time,” he had said. Did he manage to quit in this past year?

“I quit for six months, and then I gained weight. I got too close to the weight I have in my head that’s a danger zone. I got cranky. So I asked myself, ‘Do I smoke or do I gain the weight back’? I started smoking again.”

KJ and Mike both weigh themselves every day, even though weight loss experts advise against it. “We have compulsive behavior no matter what we do,” laughs KJ. “For me, if I see a steady increase in the weight, it’s a sign to chill on the snacking for a little bit.”

Mike calls weighing himself every day a “sanity check.” He says, “I weigh myself every day to ensure I have it under control.”

About those exercise programs…
Mike has admitted he didn’t have a formal exercise program. He says that he thought being more active in general would be enough. What about KJ?

“Last January, I joined Curves (a fitness club) with a friend of mine. I show up every week, but not three or four times a week like I should. I was looking at it as a quick and dirty routine that would help tighten some of my hanging skin and make my muscles stronger. Your muscles get weak when you lose weight. I haven’t noticed much difference since I’ve been working out, but then again, I have to ask myself how it would be if I didn’t exercise at all.”

Any problems with nutritional deficiencies?
“Not to my knowledge,” says KJ. “I take B12 every day, and other vitamins now and then. They tell us to do children’s chewables, because our stomachs won’t break down the pills. And I’m not always really good about it, because I think the chewables taste terrible.”

Mike, on the other hand, has a vitamin routine down. “It’s easy for me because I’m on a routine.” His says that recent physical exams have shown that his blood cholesterol is still down and his blood sugar is still under control. 

What’s life like now?
KJ and Mike both seem to have gotten more used to life the way it has to be after gastric bypass surgery—eating no more than about a half cup to a cup of food at a time. Although KJ acknowledges, “It’s still an adjustment sometimes. Going out to dinner used to be enjoyable, you know? You’d be like, hmmm, should I have Chinese or pasta? Now it’s kind of a bummer because it doesn’t matter. It’s not as much fun.”

“Plus waitresses look at you funny when you split your meals,” says Mike. “I always feel like I have to explain why I’m splitting my entrée, or why I didn’t finish my dinner. Then I always end up telling them I lost 180 pounds.”

Social gatherings are different now too for KJ and Mike. “I would avoid parties before, but now I enjoy big events,” says Mike.

LK and Mike are both in stable relationships that they were in before they lost the weight. But in the support group they’ve been attending since the surgery, they’ve met some people who tell them that losing a lot of weight can affect relationship dynamics.

“You see some relationships where maybe the woman was really heavy, and she was with a guy who wasn’t particularly nice to her,” says KJ. Now she’s looking good and has more confidence, and she’s saying to herself, ‘I can get somebody better.’ You do see a lot of divorce and separation.”

“Or,” says Mike, “you see cases where guys get jealous when their wives start looking attractive to other people.”

“My relationship has gotten better though,” says KJ. “I have more energy, and we can go out and do more things together.”

Would they still recommend the procedure?
KJ’s answer is pretty much the same as it was before. “I’d still recommend it, but it should be your last alternative. It’s a desperate measure, but for me it was successful. You have to accept that your life will be different, that your stomach will be permanently altered.”

Mike says, “I’ve changed my mind a little on that. I’m more like KJ now. I see the surgery as a tool to help you with your eating disorder. But they can’t reverse it, and you have to learn to live with that.”

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