Weight Loss/Bariatric Surgery

Bariatric Patient Story: Marc Messinger

“I was slowly killing myself,” Marc Messinger said, describing life before weight loss surgery. The 37-year-old Wind Lake resident, hockey fan and father of three weighed 309 pounds when he had the gastric bypass procedure on March 27, 2009, at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin. The date’s important, Messinger said. “It’s kind of my new birth date.”

He first considered the surgery about two years ago, and officially started the process in August, 2008. Weight has always been a challenge for him, despite an active lifestyle. Messinger weighed 340 pounds at one point, and had limited success losing weight through different diets and commercial weight loss programs. He lost more than 50 pounds about six years ago when he was working out two hours a day to train for sprint triathlons (typically including a 750 meter swim, a 20 km bike, and a 5k run). He completed six sprint triathlons in his early 30s and got down to 254 pounds. But when he stopped training, the weight came back.

The decision to have weight loss surgery was just the first step, and Messinger will tell you it’s no cake walk. “A lot of people think you’re taking the easy way out. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. There’s no shortcut.” Messinger said.

His insurance coverage led him to Froedtert & the Medical College and Medical College of Wisconsin surgeon James R. Wallace, MD, PhD, because of Dr. Wallace’s high rating. “Dr. Wallace doesn’t sugar coat it and he doesn’t babysit you. I like that about him. He doesn’t let you get away with anything. I love Dr. Wallace,” Messinger said.

The Bariatric Surgery Program at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin has helped hundreds of obese patients lose weight through gastric bypass surgery.

Preparing for Surgery

Before being cleared for the surgery, Messinger said, “the preparation is pretty intense. You can’t just walk in and get it done. You attend a seminar; then you’ve got to try to lose weight for six months on your own. The doctors want you to lose 10 percent of your weight,” he explained. “You’ve also got to see a psychologist and a dietitian. So, for the next six months, I attempted to lose that weight. I stepped up my exercise even more and I ate even less, but I could only get down to about 308 pounds. But it was enough for them to safely do the surgery.”

Dr. Wallace performed a Roux-en-Y gastric bypass procedure, which makes the stomach smaller. It was done laparoscopically, which meant less pain and a faster recovery than a traditional open procedure. “I was walking the day after surgery. I was walking and my idea of jogging within four weeks, and by week five, I was biking, running and swimming,” Messinger said.

“Froedtert’s been awesome. They really do seem to care and love what they do – I couldn’t ask for more. They were all fantastic,” Messinger said of the team that took care of him. He’s still in touch with the dietitian who helps him fine tune his diet. “The dietitian has been beyond awesome. I’ll be getting frustrated when I’ll lose only a pound a week, even though I’m exercising an hour a day and I’m only eating 1,200 calories, and she’ll have me send my food log and she’ll get right back to me and tell me what to change. She’s fantastic.” Froedtert & the Medical College schedule bariatric surgery patients for at least five years of follow-up care, and will follow patients the rest of their lives.

The Real Work Begins

The weight started coming off almost immediately – within a week Messinger weighed less than 300 pounds. By December, he was down to 213 pounds, about what he weighed in middle school. “In eighth grade, I weighed more than 200 pounds and was bigger than my principal. Now I’m below that weight, so that is absolutely life changing,” Messinger said.

But the surgery was only part of his success. By choice, Messinger sticks to a strict diet of mostly lean protein and logs everything he eats. “That’s what works for me. I eat turkey tenderloin, chicken breast, shrimp, tilapia and eggs. That’s pretty much been my diet since the surgery. I’m a big, active guy and I want to lose weight but not lose muscle,” he explained. “The surgery is not a magic pill by any means. It’s a tool to teach new habits.”

Learning those new habits was not easy. “The first three months I really struggled. The surgery is 10 percent physical and 90 percent mental. The surgery doesn’t change the way your brain works. That’s the hardest part,” Messinger said. “I was tired and I always wanted to eat more than I could. Then at about month three, those new habits started to take hold in my brain. It’s not a magic pill, that’s for sure. You’ve got to be very stringent in what you do and you’ve got to stick to your good habits.”

Finding time to eat is a struggle for Messinger who works full time as a reverse mortgage consultant and owns two Sports Clips haircut franchises with his wife. But, even with three young children all in sports and other activities, he sticks to his diet. He doesn’t finish off his kids’ plates anymore, which was one of his worst habits. And he doesn’t eat late at night, especially after a stressful day. “Now everything is weighed on a scale. I’ll make my plate ahead of time and I’ll weigh out how much my chicken breast will be. I’ll have dinner planned out by noon.”

Some Unexpected Perks

After losing so much weight, Messinger has encountered some expected benefits. He’s always hearing that he looks like a different person, and so much younger. “My children’s teacher didn’t recognize me. I had to take my children to the dentist and they thought someone else had brought my kids in. The dentist thought my wife remarried,” Messinger said. “My accountant didn’t want to let me in her house because she didn’t think I was Marc Messinger. She hadn’t seen me in eight months. That part doesn’t get old. But, I think I look the same. My brain has not caught up with my body.”

What he didn’t expect was what he found at work. “I think it’s resulted in a little bit more respect at my job, because I’m in control of my body. I wasn’t aware of that until I lost the weight. As I’ve gotten healthier, I’ve gained a certain level of respect, which I never would have expected,” Messinger said.

“It’s impacted every part of my life,” he added. “I’m a lot more focused at both my jobs – my banking job and my franchises. I’m a lot more energetic. It helps me to succeed more at work – my brain functions better not surrounded in fat,” Messinger said, laughing. “I should have done this years ago.”

Messinger writes a blog at http://www.thinnertimesforum.com/personal-stories/34467-messingers-diary.html to chronicle his experience and stay in touch with others who have had the surgery or are preparing for it. He’s motivated by how good he feels now and by all the little things he continues to notice, like being able to cross his legs. “There’s no fat between my legs now. When I sit in my chair at work, I take up half the chair. I used to take up the whole chair. Going up and down stairs, my knees used to hurt. Now my knees never hurt anymore. When I wake up in the morning, I can actually feel my hip bones. I probably last felt my hip bones when I was in fourth or fifth grade.”

His advice for others is to be sure you can stick to dramatically different eating habits. “If you’re not mentally strong, think twice about doing it, because it’s a whole change in your way of thinking and living. That’s extremely important to know. But if you can stay strong and build good habits, it’s the greatest gift you could ever give yourself,” he said.

“At the end of the day, when we’re all old and sitting in our rocking chairs, it’s not about money or power or position in life. It’s about your physical well-being and enjoying life with others. You’ve got to give yourself that gift. Without the surgery, I would not have this quality of life at all,” Messinger said.

“The surgery helps design better habits,” he added. “At the end of every e-mail and my blog, I say, ‘It’s a good life.’ Now it’s an absolutely great life after the surgery.”