Even occasional trips to the grocery store filled Louise with dread. The petite 60-year-old carried 330 pounds on her 5’1” frame, and suffered from debilitating knee pain due to chronic arthritis. Walking any distance was a near impossibility. Though Louise knew the handicap motorized cart she was forced to use was a necessity, she felt the judgmental stares of fellow shoppers. She was embarrassed and depressed.
Weight had always been an issue for Louise, and she can’t recall a time when she wasn’t on a diet. But she says her size seemed to spiral out of control once menopause hit. “I tried every weight loss program out there,” she said. “I’d lose a little weight and then put it back on.”
And then the pain in her knees became unbearable. “I began self-medicating with ibuprofen,” she admitted. Plagued next by stomach issues, Louise learned she had an ulcer – and pain medication was making it worse.
“When I realized I could no longer mask the pain with over-the-counter drugs, I knew it was time to do something about my knees,” she said. Louise consulted an orthopedic surgeon who told her she needed a double knee replacement. Unfortunately, he was unwilling to do the operation because of her size.
Obesity, coupled with joint pain, had overshadowed every aspect of Louise’s life as she neared retirement. The retail administration and recruiting job she loved so much was now difficult because of her limited mobility. Interactions with friends and family had dwindled. “I avoided social situations,” she said. “I didn’t like how I looked, and I couldn’t deal with standing for periods of time, walking even short distances and climbing stairs.” Her husband attended many outings alone while Louise stayed home, slowly becoming a recluse. With the prospect of life in a wheelchair looming, Louise knew she needed to address her weight problem.
She had heard about bariatric surgeon Scott Shikora, MD, FACS, Director, Brigham and Women's Center for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (CMBS), and made an appointment. “I was more excited than nervous,” she said about meeting Dr. Shikora whom she had researched extensively. “I was impressed with his background, but even more than that, with the way he talked to me – factually and honestly. We decided that a laparoscopic gastric bypass was the best choice for me. He described the procedure and what my recovery would be like. I felt confident and safe in his hands.” The 2011 surgery went smoothly and Louise returned home after two days at BWH. Her dietitian Laura Andromalos, MS, RD, LDN, CDE developed a detailed nutrition plan for Louise, who stocked her kitchen with soft foods, liquids and healthy choices. “Because of the pre-surgical informational meetings, I knew what to do but was reassured that Laura was just a phone call away,” she said. The CMBS approach to eating had an unexpected side-effect at home. As her husband watched Louise lose weight – ten pounds each month - he began changing his eating habits and lost some weight as well, which pleased his primary care physician.
The couple started taking strolls along the ocean near their home. They had barely given this outdoor refuge a passing glance in the past and now it was a favorite destination. As the weight came off, walking became easier. “I felt light and hopeful and filled with energy,” said Louise.
One year post-bariatric surgery, Louise was down 100 pounds. She got the green light for her first knee replacement and the second followed six weeks later. Louise tackled her rehabilitation with the same gusto she had approached her weight loss program. “My physical therapist was amazed at my quick recovery,” Louise said with pride.
According to Louise, weight loss surgery has improved her quality of life 100 percent. “I feel like I’ve had two lives: one before gastric bypass and one after. My whole demeanor has changed. I’m happier and back to my usual bubbly self…and people tell me I look twenty years younger!”
Her CMBS dietitian was also impressed with Louise’s transformation. “I worked closely with Louise before surgery and followed her through the entire process.” said Andromalos. “Each time we met after surgery, she was feeling healthier and happier. Her motivation to have her double knee replacement was inspiring, and we used that incentive to create an eating plan that she enjoyed and helped her meet her health goals.”
Louise no longer takes blood pressure medication and has stopped using a daily inhaler for asthma. She said she replaced her entire wardrobe and donated her corporate attire to an organization that distributes clothes to disadvantaged women seeking employment. Her personal relationships are thriving: Louise and her husband are planning a trip to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. She enjoys excursions with her grandchildren, nieces and nephews and no longer has physical restrictions as to the kind of activity planned. Recently, Louise visited an out-of-state girlfriend and made the trip alone, something she wouldn’t have considered prior to surgery. “The expression on her face was priceless,” Louise said of her friend’s response when she answered the door.
When the winter of 2015 brought record snowfall to Massachusetts, new Louise was ready. In past years, snow removal had been her husband’s responsibility, but this snow-filled year he was laid up with a broken ankle. Undeterred, Louise spent countless hours shoveling out the family’s cars and parking spaces — only to repeat the process with the next storm. She recalls the comment of a town snowplow driver who saw her in action week after week. “You are one strong woman,” he called out. Louise agrees.
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