It was a sobering day when Anthony’s doctor told him, “You either lose weight, or you die.” At 5’7” and 286 pounds, Anthony had just learned that his blood glucose level was off the charts for type 2 diabetes. “I had high blood pressure and sleep apnea too,” said Anthony, a 26-year veteran driver for an express mail delivery service.
His on-the-road career was fraught with unhealthy temptations. The 52-year-old drove past one fast food restaurant after another during his daily travels. “Wendy’s, Burger King, McDonald’s, I was a frequent customer at all of them,” he said. “If it tasted good and was accessible on my route, I ate it.”
Anthony’s second job, as a waiter at an Italian restaurant in Boston’s North End, provided extra calories with heaping helpings of pasta available to sample night after night. Part of an Italian-American family, Anthony had grown up with mealtime traditions: large portions, multiple courses and the expectation that you finish everything on your plate or risk insulting the cook.
A husky kid, Anthony played softball and was involved in sports his whole life. Fitness-wise, his intentions were always good. “I signed up for ten gym memberships and used each one of them once,” he said. “I’ve tried every single diet out there. I’d lose the weight and then I’d gain it all back, plus some.”
The turning point came in 2013 when Anthony’s girlfriend called him one afternoon. She was excited. She had run into a friend who had slimmed down and looked fantastic. “He had had gastric sleeve surgery with Ali Tavakkoli, MD at Brigham and Women’s Hospital,” Anthony remembered. Anthony was spurred into action.
He called Dr. Tavakkoli’s office and attended a free information session at Brigham and Women's Center for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (CMBS), an all-inclusive program offering a medical evaluation, laparoscopic surgical options, and lifetime support by surgeons, dietitians and psychologists. He heard about the risks and benefits of minimally invasive bariatric surgery procedures, was educated about dietary requirements and learned about insurance coverage.
Convinced that this was the life-saving answer he needed, Anthony initiated the insurance-mandated steps prior to weight loss surgery approval. “I had an evaluation by a CMBS psychologist and was seen by a Brigham and Women's Hospital cardiologist,” he said. Insurance clearance came quickly and a laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy was scheduled within the next month.
”When I first met Anthony, he was only 50-years-old but had developed multiple medical problems due to his weight,” explained Dr. Tavakkoli. “As well as taking prescriptions for high blood pressure and using a CPAP machine to treat sleep apnea, Anthony had type-2 diabetes and required several medications to keep it under control. Conversation with his doctor prompted Anthony to explore the option of weight loss surgery. At our first meeting, I could feel his commitment and determination to get healthy again and knew he would be successful on his journey.”
Anthony spent two days in the hospital following the 45-minute laparoscopic procedure. “I felt ready to return to work a week later but insurance required I stay home for 30 days,” he said. And then, what Anthony hoped would happen, did. The weight melted off: ten pounds one week, eight the next, six, then 14. “I was encouraged every time I stood on the scale,” he said. For the first two weeks, he drank protein shakes and liquids, and then moved to soft foods, such as mashed potatoes. He learned to eat slowly and to chew his food well before swallowing. With the advice of Katrina Stephanides, RD, LDN, senior clinical bariatric dietitian, Anthony began preparing smaller portions of healthy foods and brown-bagging, rather than buying his lunch. “Katrina was always there with an “attaboy!” for me,” he said. It felt great knowing I had the CMBS team by my side.”
Determined to succeed, Anthony put his gym membership to good use and began a cardio- fitness regime soon after surgery. “I worked out every day, “he said. At home, he resisted the call of the refrigerator during TV commercials by dropping down to the floor for sit-ups. Anthony reached his goal weight of 195, a loss of 91 pounds. Dr. Tavakkoli remarks that, “As well as achieving excellent weight loss, Anthony no longer requires treatment for his blood pressure or the three medications he was taking for his diabetes. At his last visit, Anthony’s blood pressure and blood sugar values were perfect.”
Anthony tries not to beat himself up when his weight fluctuates. “The Super Bowl parties were tough this year,” he admitted. But he is pleased with the change in his appearance—though the stares and comments still catch him off guard. Small accomplishments also make him happy. Now he can bend over and put on his shoes easily, a task that used to require a lot of effort.
Anthony has inspired others to follow in his weight loss footsteps. His girlfriend has lost weight and the two continue to visit the gym together. He is also paying it forward by spreading the word about CMBS. “I have referred two people to Dr. Tavakkoli since my surgery. And they have each lost 100 pounds!”
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