“I’ve always been a big guy,” Lee Blanchard said. “In high school, I was 300 pounds. It’s something I’ve always struggled with. When I ballooned up to 400, I knew I had to do something or I wasn’t going to make it to 40. I didn’t have a lot of hope.” Then he began to read and listen to first-hand accounts of people who had bariatric surgery. “Hearing their stories gave me hope,” he said. While Lee did some reading and attended a free bariatric surgery seminar sponsored by MidMichigan Health, he freely admits his wife did the majority of the research. “Renee helped me understand the drastic nature of what I was doing and helped me prepare,” he said. “She actually began the mental preparation for her surgery while I was going through it.”
On Nov. 14, 2013, Lee had a sleeve gastrectomy performed by Dr. Ernest Cudjoe, a general and bariatric surgeon. During this procedure, the stomach is divided into two sections and one section is permanently removed. The remaining portion of the stomach is long and narrow, resembling the shape of a sleeve. While the procedure maintains the basic function of the stomach, the volume of food the stomach can handle is significantly reduced so patients feel full quickly and eat less. “In a little more than a year, I lost 120 pounds and have about 75 more to go,” Lee said. “The first four months after surgery were regimented as far as what I could eat and the weight dropped quickly and easily. Once the restrictions were lifted, and I could eat normal food again, it was a bit more challenging but I’ve embraced the new eating style.”
While Lee was adjusting to his new lifestyle, Renee was dealing with her own health crisis. In addition to managing a thyroid condition, she was diagnosed with pseudotumor cerebri, a neurological condition that mimics the symptoms of a brain tumor without a tumor present; it causes increasingly unpleasant and serious symptoms and has the potential to cause long-term damage. “My neurologist asked me to consider bariatric surgery because my condition was exacerbated by my weight,” Renee said. “If I lost weight, I could greatly improve my chances of improving the condition and my thyroid problem as well. I had not been successful in the past — I’d lost and gained and lost and gained.”
Renee admits she had fleetingly thought about bariatric surgery but didn’t know if she was a good candidate. However, because of her condition, and the fact that she struggled with more than 200 pounds on her five foot frame, she decided to have a sleeve gastrectomy as well. “I had done the research and I was mentally prepared,” she said. “It was a lot easier going through the surgery after having watched Lee go through it. Lee had such a good experience that I felt comfortable with Dr. Cudjoe and with the process.” In the months that followed, Renee lost 75 pounds along with the symptoms that had plagued her.
“I was on a daily medication for the pseudotumor cerebri and now I’ve gone off the meds and am free of symptoms. I’m down to a once-a-year checkup,” she said. “Bariatric surgery was definitely the right decision for me.” Lee echoed her sentiments. “Besides marrying my wife, having bariatric surgery was the best decision I ever made,” he said. “It changed my life completely.” The benefits extend to others in their lives as well. “Our kids are being raised in a more active, healthy environment,” Lee said. “Renee and I work with the youth in our church and we are better examples for them. Now I can take them to Cedar Point and actually ride the rides with them!”
Lee said his biggest challenge isn’t food. “For me it’s the decision to go to the gym,” he said with a laugh. Both know that exercise is essential for maintaining a healthy weight and they faithfully work out at the Midland Community Center. “If I don’t work out, my diet has to be 100 percent controlled,” he said. “If I exercise, I’m OK so I just do it. I remind myself that now I can work out without pain. Before my back would hurt and my knees would ache. Now, I can run a 5K without stopping and Renee is training for a half marathon.” For Renee, recording her activity and her progress helped her succeed.
“My best advice to others would be to track, track, track,” she said. “Many people tell bariatric patients to not look at the scale, however not looking at the scale is how I became obese. After surgery, I began to track everything — what I ate, my inches, my exercise, my weight loss, my BMI, etc. Within the first couple months I discovered what my issues were and I adjusted. I weigh in every morning and I record it. This allows me to catch myself when I began to fall into old habits and it shows me the consequences of my choices.” Neither Lee nor Renee, both 29, had any post-operative issues. Lee believes that bariatric surgery can be a good first step for someone who is mentally prepared.
“Surgery doesn’t do the weight loss for you. You have to be diligent and make good decisions every day,” he said. Lee said working through things as a team helped him and his wife. “On days I struggle, she encourages me,” he said. “On days she struggles, I encourage her.” “Our mind set is ‘we are going to work out even when we don’t want to, and eat what we are supposed to eat,’” Renee said. “For us, this is a lifetime commitment.” Source: Midland Daily News