When Lana walked into the Reading Hospital Weight Management Center in June 2007 she weighed 407 pounds. If you ask her how she got to that point she will not tell you a heart wrenching story of a life long struggle with obesity. Lana was an average size into adulthood and only after having her first child did she begin a long battle with weight gain. Slowly, after many years, she reached this weight.
Lana describes herself as having always been active, even at her heaviest. A busy mother of two, supervisor of a group home for individuals with special needs and all around adventurer, you never once get the impression that she was idly watching the days of her life go by. When she reflects back on all the weight, she wonders how she managed to do half the things she did. This became the problem. Lana noticed she was having to turn down opportunities and events. She had to think ahead about every possible scenario she might incur on any given trip. Her litany of questions included, but were not limited to: What was the seating situation? How much walking was involved? Were there hills?
She was prematurely aging and fast. At 35 she had gone to Europe and struggled to climb a hill, but made it, none the less. At 40 she new that if she returned she would not be able to make that same trek. She recalls turning down family activities dependent on the location and demands. Lana had all the expected complications that come along with obesity: acid reflux, high blood pressure, bad knees. Her life was being cut short. Having always been active, as her daughters entered into adulthood, she began to dwell on the desire to be the grandmother who took the grandkids out, played along side them and exposed them to new opportunities. The reality was that this opportunity was passing her by as she crescendoed in weight.
All these things culminated to her decision to pursue Lap Band Surgery. This procedure has been in the U.S. for a shorter period of time than other weight loss surgeries. It's is also statistically less successful. This may in large part be due to the fact that it does not reroute the intestines as some other procedures, but puts a band around a portion of the stomach. Therefore, cravings and appetite still abound creating a difficult environment to turn down the urge to eat as the patient previously did. How it works is the band is filled with saline to tighten around the stomach over time. This limits the amount of food the stomach is able to take in initially. She felt this was a much safer and a less invasive course of action. Lana indicates her research turned up “horror stories” of weight loss surgeries gone wrong when other methods were used.
From June 2007 to November she ran the gamut of doctors and specialists as she prepared for surgery. She was required to lose 10% of her body weight before even having the band placed (She dropped 50 pounds – over 10%), to have a psyche evaluation, see a dietitian, and countless other appointments. It was rigorous and grueling especially as she reflects upon how difficult it is for someone who struggles with weight issues to go see their doctor. “You don't go unless you have to,” she remarks, “because you know they're going to weigh you and you're going to get the lecture.”
In November 2008 Lana had Lap Band surgery. The requirements for prep and post op dietary intake are nothing to shirk at. They're specified to each candidate, but generally follow some similar pattern of all liquid diet a number of days before surgery, then the same for a couple to few weeks after. Gradually the patient is able to eat processed foods and eventually a normal diet, according to what their doctor has stipulated for them.
In Lana's journey she recounts that after the procedure she was ravenous. Her appetite came back full force and it was nearly impossible for her to maintain this stringent diet. She began to gain back some of the weight lost before surgery and grew discouraged. Yet, she persevered, went back for saline fills and began to exercise. Soon she saw improvement.
In January 2008 she began to exercise. No, she didn't hit the tread mill running, or start biking or kick boxing. She walked. She walked the mall for one hour and in June 2008 began walking the local track. Around April she began to feel a change. In January 2009 she joined the gym and continues work out several times a week, devoting a lot of time to the ellipticals which provides a great cardio workout with less impact on the knees. Lana started at a 2000 calorie diet after the surgery and gradually lowered it to 1800, 1400, 1200 and has now stabilized at a consistent 1500 calorie diet.
She has successfully lost 260 pounds since her surgery and has maintained her weight with a great amount of hard work and determination. Yet, this accomplishment is not an intangible one. It required several small steps and daily decisions to make the change she wanted in her life.
I asked what advice she'd offer to anyone considering a similar path. I asked what she wished she new or was different about this journey. She said that everyone must make this decision when they are ready. Sometimes she wonders why she didn't start sooner, but really doesn't believe that she was ready. Also, she says to talk about the surgery. Never keep it a secret. This holds one accountable to the commitment they've made. It's so easy to go back to the same lifestyle, but if others know then one feels more of an obligation to stick to it.
Counseling is a practice she wishes was required as part of the gauntlet of medical professionals one is required to see before, during and after surgery. She attests to the traumatic psychological changes that are undergone as one sheds hundreds of pounds and discovers a new way of life. It's not uncommon for relationships to fail, and individuals to fall apart when someone undergoes such a dramatic change. One feels differently about themselves and they find that others feel differently about them too. Lana mentions that belief that “you're always the fat girl” as a great obstacle to over come. Another issue is many times obesity is part of a larger struggle with addiction and having surgery just results in dropping one addiction only to pick up another. According to an ABC news report, “About 140,000 people have weight-loss surgery each year, and it is estimated that somewhere between 5 and 30 percent of them pick up new addictive behaviors afterward. Dr. Keith Ablow, a psychiatrist and addiction specialist, said it's common for people to switch from one addiction to another. People who quit drinking may begin smoking, or they might take up some other compulsive behavior like gambling, shopping or exercise.”. (http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=2210783&page=2)
These issues are sobering realities, however, Lana testifies to the positivity of her life altering choices. She finds vast joy in her new lease on life. The possibilities are nearly limitless as she relinquishes the burden of constant analysis over her ability to participate in life itself. No longer does she doubt if she can climb a hill, go out to dinner, or even make it up the stairs in her home. She looks forward to a future of adventures as a grandmother. For Lana, life is about seizing opportunities and about being the best she can be and sharing that experience with others. She doesn't pretend to have it all figured out or think that her way is the best way, but she's an advocate for living the best life possible. She'll continue to make the best decisions for herself everyday. That will, in turn, inspire others to do the same for themselves.