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Connie Shapiro's Success Story

I have been overweight my entire life, for as long as I can remember.  I was 11 when my mom put me on my first diet. I was in the 6th grade and this created quite a disruption at the school as I was not eating lunch.  I guess it was a school policy for every child to eat a lunch. I lost about 30 pounds and felt better about myself but the weight came back. 

Through high school, I was a large girl.  I weighed about 200 pounds and was 5’7.” I was able to crash diet for senior pictures and when they were taken I weighed about 150 pounds.  But the weight came back.  During college, I maintained a weight of 190 to 210 pounds, with occasional drops to 160 – 170 pounds due to dieting, but the weight always came back. 

While in college I tried all sorts of diets, Weight Watchers, Slim-Fast, grapefruit diets, the hot dog diet…whichever was the diet of the week on my dorm floor.  I thought something was metabolically wrong with me and I put it to the test.  My college roommate was a very thin girl, 5’8” and 117 pounds.  For one week I ate what she ate, I drank what she drank, I got the same exercise that she did.  After one week she had lost 3 pounds and I had gained 10.  I asked my doctor to test my thyroid, which he did, and could find nothing wrong. 

After college and during my first pregnancy, my weight shot up to 265 pounds.  It never left.  Depressed and eating about it, my weight skyrocketed to 322 pounds.  That was my highest weight ever.  This was on New Year’s Day, 1996. 

I decided it was time to make a change.  Once again, I embarked on the diet of the week.  Weight Watchers, Slim-Fast, and Cabbage Soup…what ever diet was in a magazine, I tried it.  Over the course of about 6 months, I was able to get down to around 260 pounds.  Then came my second child and once again my weight was up to 285 pounds after the birth.  I tried to lose the weight but nothing seemed to work. 

The severe depression cycle was on. I was depressed about my weight so to comfort myself I ate, which made me more depressed about my weight…and so on.  Life was very bleak, and the suicidal thoughts were intense but I knew my children needed me. 

Six months after the birth of my second child, I found out I was pregnant again.  I weighed 285 pounds for my entire pregnancy, which upset my doctors because I did not gain any weight.  After the birth of my third child I found myself at 265 but a month after he was born we made a cross country move. Depressed and lonely, I ate to comfort myself in my new home, and the weight came back. 

On January 1st, 1999 I found myself at 299 pounds (funny how those new years weights stick with us).  Once again I dieted using Weight Watchers. Why I kept coming back to Weight Watchers, I do not know.  Three months later I was at 245, a month after that I was back to 265.  I pretty much stayed in the 250 to 275 range for the next two years.

In 1996, I began investigating gastric by-pass surgery after I saw a commercial on TV.  I was ready to do it.  I made the call to the doctor, gathered information about it, then called my insurance.  They would in no way pay for this surgery.  This procedure at the time was not open to appeal.  It was a big fat NO! Of course this depressed me so much that I ate.  I ate the surgery right out of my mind.

In February of 2001, being home sick and surfing on the Internet, I rediscovered gastric bypass surgery.  This time I made my mind up that I was going to have this surgery, provided it was right for me, even if I had to pay for it out of my own pocket. 

My health was in bad shape.  I was 30 years old, had a fasting glucose of 212, a blood pressure of 150/119, gastric reflux disease, female problems, and walked with a cane because the arthritis in my back was aggravated by my weight.  I could not walk up the flight of stairs in my house without being out of breath.  My doctor attributed all of it to my weight. 

In March of 2001, I saw my primary care doctor.  I approached him well researched and gave him a lot of information. I was scared. I wasn’t sure if he would approve it, if he would tell me to try another diet, or just what he would say.  But the words he said still ring in my ears today – “Connie, go for it.  This surgery will not only add years to your life but life to your years!”  WOW!  So I was off and running (so to speak).  He did a complete battery of tests on me.

Next, I tackled the insurance. Having been denied once, I was scared.  This time I was so much more informed and well researched, but I was at the bare minimum for my insurance to pay with a BMI of 41.  Needless to say, they gave me a run around.  So after a 3-way call with the insurance company, the weight loss surgeon’s office, and myself, I was approved!!! This was June 2001. 

My surgeon wanted to schedule the surgery for July, but I was not able to raise the $3500 deposit in a month, so I scheduled my surgery for September 11, 2001.  I held garage sales, bake sales, sold stuff on eBay, and took out the small amount of retirement money I had to raise the money.  On September 1, 2001, I was still $500 short.  I called the surgeon’s office and rescheduled for October 16, 2001.  Good thing I guess, I would have been in Salt Lake City and would not have experienced one of the worst days in US history. 

I raised the last $500 and set off for Salt Lake City on October 12, 2001.  My husband dropped me at the hotel and went back to Wyoming until the day before surgery.  I had to be in Salt Lake City to meet the doctor, attend classes, and have blood work done.  My weight was then 260 pounds.

My entire family was very much opposed to my having surgery.  My mom pleaded with me to try one more diet and just “stick to it.” My adult nephew who lived with us gave me countless articles from his various men’s magazines that dealt with all of the negative aspects of weight loss surgery. My husband neither supported nor discouraged me.  He said that I was healthy (but I knew I wasn’t) and my weight didn’t matter.  He was afraid that I might not survive the surgery.  It had only been 15 months earlier that he underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor and he was concerned that he would have to raise 3 children alone.

For 8 months prior to my surgery, I had been prepping myself mentally for surgery and my eating and exercising lifestyle afterward.  I envisioned a smooth lap RNY surgery and getting quickly back to work.  The day before surgery, I found out it was going to be an open RNY because I had a previous lap gall bladder surgery.  I was devastated. But I realized that had they done the surgery laparoscopically, because of my previous scarring they would have had to revert to an open procedure anyway. 

The hospital stay was comfortable.  I had a morphine pump that controlled my pain. Just 3 hours out of surgery, I was in my room and had to use the bathroom.  While the nurse went to get a bedpan, I made my way ever so slowly to the bathroom. The nurse was so happy and surprised that I walked so quickly. I made an effort to walk every hour that I was awake.  Each hour, I would get up and walk for 15 minutes doing laps around the floor, then collapse back in my bed, push the morphine button, sleep for 45 minutes and repeat the cycle.  The nurses were so impressed with my getting up and walking. 

For my first post-op meal, I was served Jello.  The first thing I asked, through my morphine-induced haze, “was it sugar free?”  The nurse said no, and I said I wouldn’t eat it.  They brought me broth the rest of the time I was there.  The nursing staff was impressed with my tenacity and being well informed.  I left the hospital on Thursday, 2 days early. 

One of the things that made me the most comfortable was sleeping on my side with a pillow wedged between my stomach and the bed.  It gave support to my saggy but shrinking stomach. 

The Monday after surgery (6 days out) I returned to work half days.  Although well medicated, I was able to have some level of functioning. Three weeks after surgery, I flew across country to attend courses at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  I was gone for 3 weeks.  It didn’t dawn on me that I would shrink that fast but the clothes I left with barely stayed on my body by the time I got home.  In fact when I flew home, going through security at the airport, they asked me to remove my belt.  I complied but nearly dropped my size 30 jeans to the floor! HA!  When I got home my husband hardly recognized me.  The following Monday I went back to Salt Lake City for my 6-week checkup.  I had lost 53 pounds!!  WOW!

Over the next few months, things went well.  I hit plateaus, got a little upset, but worked through them.  I had 4 uncomfortable episodes with eating because I either ate too fast or drank water while eating, yet I survived.  I noticed that my plateaus were at weights I had spent time at before surgery.  During the summer of 2002 I hit a big plateau.  My weight was 134 pounds, a loss of 126 pounds.  I was there almost all summer. 

By September, I guessed that I was finished losing weight as I was approaching my one-year anniversary.  I resigned myself to being at that weight.  But just a week later, I was down to 122 pounds, 200 pounds less than my highest weight and 138 pounds less than my pre-surgery weight. 

The holidays brought a mild weight gain but I currently feel wonderful.  I now range between 125 and 129 pounds. I exercise a lot and just had my body fat percentage calculated. It was 15%.  I was thrilled.  My BMI is 20. 

Over the last year, I have been able to set and complete a lot of new goals for myself.  I can run and play with my children and have fun with my husband.  I was an Olympic Torchbearer in February 2002.  I took a new job, one that makes me happy.  And currently, I am Mrs. Fremont County, Wyoming, America.  In July of 2003 I will compete in the Mrs. Wyoming pageant.  If I win there, I will go on to Hawaii and compete in the Mrs. America pageant. It is same as the Miss America pageant but for married women.  I never would have thought in a million years, I would be competing in a beauty pageant.  WOW! 

As my doctor said, I have added years to my life but more importantly added life to my years. Thank you for letting me talk about this, I didn’t realize how many feelings I had wrapped up in this.  While writing this I cried and laughed.  We don’t have a support group in our area; the nearest one is a 2 1/2-hour drive away. I don’t know if this is a success story or not.  I view it as a lifestyle change and a mindset change.  I am out there more, living and loving my life.  Thank you for your time and efforts.

Connie Shapiro
Lander, WY

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