Liz Delaney was frustrated and frightened by her weight.
“I never had a weight issue until I reached grad school,” the 34 year-old said. “During school, I was working through depression and put on weight quickly. Before I knew it, I was almost 300 pounds.”
Reality didn’t sink in until she went for blood work and noticed the doctor had written “morbidly obese” on her medical chart. She knew it was time to take action.
A conversation with a fellow dog owner at a dog park started Delaney on her weight-loss journey. She was directed to a medical weight-loss program and began watching what she ate, exercising, even participating in hot yoga. She joined Weight Watchers and enjoyed some success.
“I learned a lot from that program,” she said.
Even with healthier dieting and exercising, however, the 5-foot-10 Delaney could only get her weight down to 200 pounds, not close enough to reach a “normal” body mass index.
“In all honesty, I hadn’t made the full transition to eating better,” she said.
Then, the accident happened and all her weight-loss efforts seemed doomed. She remembers: “I tripped on some stairs and my body kept going while my foot stayed in place.”
Delaney’s foot essentially broke in half. The injury would require surgery and keep her off her feet for three months. Once she could finally walk, she broke her foot again.
“I had put on more weight and simply broke it while walking,” she explained.
It took three surgeries to repair her foot. Her depression about her situation returned, right along with her weight, which began to impact all aspects of her life—including her work as a research manager at Grand Valley State University.
Her primary care physician referred her to a medical weight-loss program and the Spectrum Health bariatric program. She went to presentations by both organizations and came away impressed by the possibilities of bariatric surgery.
“I hadn’t really considered a gastric bypass before, but when Dr. (Jon) Schram explained it at the seminar, it made so much sense for me,” she said.
Delaney still had hurdles to jump before undergoing the procedure. Her physician wouldn’t approve gastric bypass because “he didn’t believe I was taking my weight loss seriously,” she said. Also, she had to convince her insurer to cover the surgery expense, which typically runs about $28,000.
Delaney set out to prove to her doctor and insurer that gastric bypass was right for her. She started seeing a therapist to work through her depression and she hired a personal trainer to keep her motivated to exercise and lose weight.
“I needed to change the way I thought of and behaved around food,” she said.
Her efforts paid off. She dropped 30 pounds and was ready for surgery. That came in May 2014.
“We always tell people that if they can lose weight without surgery, do it,” said Jon Schram, MD, Spectrum Health Medical Group. “The reality is, once your BMI is 35 or greater, your chance of successfully losing and sustaining significant weight loss is less than 5 percent. Most people who undergo bariatric surgery are able to sustain at least half of their weight loss long term.”
Delaney’s struggles after her foot injury did not surprise the bariatric surgeon. Dr. Schram said many of his patients are referred by orthopaedic surgeons who insist on significant weight loss before their patients get joint replacements.
“If you can take off 100 pounds, the likelihood of your knee implant working is much greater,” Dr. Schram said.
Delaney said she took all the advice she received after the surgery very seriously. She met with dietitians and followed everything they advised for her restricted diet. She also started running, something she never thought she would do after her foot injuries.
“My friends were very encouraging,” she said. “I started walking with them in a 5K color run. At some point, I had to run to catch up to them—and I did.”
Delaney joined a running group in August 2014, and she has regularly participated in runs ever since.
“At first, I was really slow,” she said. “I remember we did a wine run in Fennville and my goal was just to run the whole thing. And I did. I was so slow and I was trying hard to pass some 80-year-old power walkers. I didn’t.”
Now, 16 months after her surgery, Delaney has lost 115 pounds. She continues to lose weight.
“I feel like I am finally the person I thought I was,” she said.
She now runs in races regularly and carefully watches her diet and checks her weight once a week. She also joined a bariatric surgery support group and continues seeing a counselor.
Her advice for others trying to decide if bariatric surgery is right for them:
- Do your research: “What helped me decide was going to the seminars and listening to the experts,” she said.
- Stick to the diet: “I kept a log of everything I ate. I still do.”
- Enlist support from friends and family: “My friends were amazing. Right from the start they would encourage me in exercising and would make sure to have food on hand that I could eat.”
“There’s kind of a stigma out there about bariatric surgery,” she said, “but I would encourage people to get out there and do the research. You need to think about it and decide if you are ready for this kind of commitment.”