Lisa Harris, a software administrator and mom of two living in southern New Jersey, knows firsthand how living with obesity can affect even the most minute details of day-to-day living. However, until she had bariatric surgery in May 2011, she didn’t realize how much losing the weight would transform her, physically and psychologically.
Harris had been teased for her weight as a child. As a young adult, she was wearing a clothing size to match her age: 22. She gained and lost and regained pounds over the years, until in her mid-40s, she hovered around 350 pounds.
The weight took a toll on her health, forcing her to take blood pressure medication and exacerbating back problems from a car injury she had sustained years prior. “I was often in too much pain to walk, and when I did walk I had to use a cane to get around,” she says. Harris also became borderline diabetic.
Emotionally, she wasn’t in a much better place. Harris describes her pre-surgery self as “introverted” and “a doormat,” who would “cry at the drop of a hat.” Her weight was often a source of embarrassment; once, on a flight to Atlanta, she was horrified to discover that her seatbelt was too tight even with an extender, but she was too mortified to ask for another.
Despite her poor quality of life, Harris had always thought of bariatric surgery as too painful and expensive. Then she met a post-op patient at a nail salon who convinced her otherwise. In the three years since Harris’ gastric bypass surgery, she has lost 166 pounds and dropped from a snug size 28 to a very comfortable 12.
Her health improved dramatically. Just two months post-surgery, and an estimated 40 to 50 pounds lighter, her blood pressure regulated and she was able to ditch the medication. Ditto for the ibuprofen she had been taking daily to cope with her back pain, which became manageable once she slimmed down.
Today, Harris is much more active than she ever was before, both in and out of the gym. “Before surgery, I would go downstairs in the morning and upstairs at night,” she says. “If I needed something upstairs, I would tell one of my kids to get it for me. Now I run up and down the stairs and don’t give it a second thought.” At the local dog park where she and her daughter walk their pets, she’s no longer winded after a single lap. “Now, it’s three or four laps and the dogs are tired before I am,” she says.
Just as important, Harris has discovered an “extreme level of confidence” in herself following the surgery. “When you walk into a high-end store in the mall and you weigh 350 pounds, they ignore you,” she says. “Now they say, ‘Hi, can I help you?’” She’s taken full advantage of the improved customer service to overhaul her wardrobe three times. The last time she flew, it was without a seatbelt extender, and she even credits her new, outgoing personality with meeting her second husband, who she married this spring. “In my mind, the end result of the surgery and its affect on my life completely and totally outweighed the risks,” she says. “I can’t even imagine trying to carry that around anymore.”
For more information about bariatric surgery, sign up for a free weight-loss information session with the Penn Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery Program.