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I had my stomach stapled

At 18, Michelle weighed 312 pounds. After many unsuccessful dieting attempts, Michelle took a drastic step to rid herself of her weight problem.

Since I was about 10, I’ve been overweight. At that time, I weighed 180 pounds. Although my family was supportive, kids at school made fun of me. In ninth grade, a boy put donuts on my chair so I’d sit on them. The pranks really got to me, and I’d go home in tears.

Filling the Emptiness

Food has always been a comfort to me. When I was little, my parents had problems so I ate to forget about what was going on at home. I also ate out of boredom, and it became a vicious cycle.

I tried many diets, but nothing worked. But aside from the emotional problems that went with being overweight, I developed physical problems. I got polycystic ovarian syndrome, which is when cysts grow all over your ovaries. That really messed up my hormones and made me extremely moody. And I constantly had to go to the hospital with painful, ruptured cysts.

There were many things I couldn’t do because of my weight, like walking up and down stairs without losing my breath! I couldn’t go to amusement parks because I didn’t fit on the rides. And I’d never worn a bathing suit, so I couldn’t swim.

By the time I was 16, I was miserable and felt my life was completely out of control.

Desperate Measures
Finally, I thought I’d figured a way out of my rut. I swallowed a bottle of my dad’s epilepsy pills in an attempted suicide. My mom found me unconscious and rushed me to the hospital. I was admitted for a week and watched carefully so I wouldn’t try to harm myself again.

But in the hospital, I looked around at all the kids with really horrendous problems and realized my life wasn’t so bad. I decided I wanted to live and be healthy. But I knew I had work to do—I was up to 312 pounds.

Once I was home, I caught a TV show about a woman having gastric bypass surgery, or “stomach stapling.” It’s a surgical procedure in which the stomach is made so small that the patient can’t overeat. The woman on the show lost a ton of weight after her surgery. This gave me hope.

When I told my parents I wanted to have the surgery, they were very supportive. My mom took me to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, one of the only hospitals where this kind of surgery is performed on kids. I was interviewed by a psychiatrist, physical therapist and dietician to determine if I could handle the surgery. They told me about the dangers and the strict eating requirements I would have for the rest of my life.

Certain foods, like breads and most sweets, would be totally off limits. I could only eat one cup of food at every meal, and I’d have to eat four meals a day. If I broke these rules, I could end up with severe nausea, a racing heartbeat and “dumping syndrome,” which is simultaneous vomiting and diarrhea.

I was required to drink more than eight glasses of water a day to prevent dehydration, and I would need a B-12 shot every month. I’d need a daily multivitamin, Tums for calcium, and drugs to prevent gallstones or ulcers. I could also lose my hair if I didn’t have enough protein.

The surgery took about four and a half hours. My stomach was cut down to the size of an egg, and recovery was painful for a few days. But by the fourth day, I was released from the hospital.

Her Loss, Her Gain
I immediately lost an average of three to five pounds a week. Within the first six months, I had lost 100 pounds. Now, my weight loss has slowed to about a pound a week.

My meals now consist of protein, veggies, fruits and carbs, but I can’t eat the skins of any vegetable or fruit—even grapes. I accidentally ate some potato skin once and ended up in the emergency room. I also can’t chew gum. If I were to swallow it, I would need immediate surgery to remove it.

To me, though, these potential dangers are a small price for my new life. My depression has virtually disappeared. I socialize more, walk constantly and go to the gym three times a week. I can keep up with my friends now—and even share clothes with them!

The only bummer is when I look at my bare body in the mirror. My bra size went from 40 C to 36 A, so the excess skin hangs. When I get the money, I need surgery to remove the skin. I’m a size 14 now and, in two months, I should reach my goal of size 10.

Big Changes
Even though weight loss alone doesn’t make my life perfect, I get a lot more attention. Guys flirt, and I get asked out.

Weight should never be an issue for me again. The first thing people see when they meet me is not my obesity. They get to know me for me. And kids don’t stare anymore. And my relationship with my parents is better because I’m confident.

Before the surgery, I had to come to learn to accept myself. If you have the surgery and still don’t love yourself, what else do you need to fix? You’ll always find something wrong with your outer appearance, but what matters is what’s inside of you—not outside.

Michelle, 18 as told to Sandy Fertman Ryan

POSTED ON 2/16/2010 5:19:00 PM

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