Bariatric Patient Story: Christopher Peppas
I am writing my own story, not just because it is what I do for a living - it also serves as catharsis and a reminder of how far I have come in the war I have waged against being overweight.
I hope it inspires others to realize it’s never too late to retake the reins of one’s life. There’s time to enhance the quantity and quality by putting your health house back in order.
Let me start with a little perspective. I was not overweight in the sense that the average American uses the term. Simply put, for the majority of my life I have been obese. For the lion’s share of those years, morbidly obese would be the tag I lived with each and every day. That’s morbid, as in dead. My body mass index (BMI) was off the charts long before it became part of the vernacular.
I had gone decades without knowing how much I weighed because, before obesity became an epidemic, regular scales didn’t register that high. Our trusty bathroom version was rendered obsolete by age 16.
I finally got the answer I had been dreading when I got on a scale at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that they use to weigh the rolls of newsprint. You may have seen these rolling in on flatbed semis before the finished paper lands on your doorstep.
Like a lot of people reading this who have fought on the same turf, I tried over and over to lose weight. I had gained and lost more than 200 pounds three times and more than 110 pounds in two other attempts, with many yo-yo diets with losses and gains in the 50-100 pound range in between.
So, it is not a bungee-cord stretch of the truth to say that having gastric bypass surgery literally saved my life. I didn’t have diabetes, high-blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep apnea or any of the other co-morbidities of obesity. That was luck, but I knew in my heart that I was no less a ticking time-bomb.
With Medical College of Wisconsin surgeon James Wallace, MD, nurse practitioner Deb Andris, NP, and the bariatric surgery team at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin, I was given a tool to not only lose the excess weight but completely change my relationship with food. It was then I could get off the roller coaster and keep the weight off, which I have done now for more than four years.
I did not make the decision to have surgery in haste. I hit the Internet, went to seminars about the Lap Band® and gastric bypass procedures at three different hospitals. I chose Froedtert & the Medical College because of the experience (almost six years at the time) and because of the follow-up care and no-nonsense approach.
What Dr. Wallace offered was not a panacea, but a step-by-step process to lose the weight, coupled with a whole new approach to ensure that it stays off. He made no bones about the fact that having surgery was the easy part. The real hard work was to follow.
I went through all the testing, satisfied my insurance provider and set about to lose about 70 pounds before surgery. I wanted to make the procedure, which is not without risks, as safe as possible. I also wanted to have the surgery via laparoscope — through small incisions — to speed healing and minimize complications.
About a month before the scheduled date, I had what we found out later was a gallbladder attack, a doubled-over-in-pain-hours-and-hours-on-end-put-me-out-of-my-misery kind of pain that could have put my dream on hold. The pain was addressed and by some miracle, a cancellation moved the surgery ahead two weeks. It turned out to be a critical cancellation.
As Dr. Wallace was getting an intimate peek at my innards, it was discovered that I had a large hernia which a nice size cantaloupe could move through. Oh, and one dead gall bladder. It had become gangrenous. Not good.
What started out as a routine rearrangement of my gastrointestinal system that he had performed more than 500 times to that point turned into a lot more than either of us would have thought. A three-hour sprint morphed into a 10.5-hour marathon, making for some very nervous loved ones in the waiting area. Of course, I was in the arms of Morpheus and didn’t feel a thing.
Needless to say, this experience has completely changed my life. I may be less than half the man I used to be, but I feel more than twice as strong in virtually every way.
Seeing a booth at a restaurant no longer gives me pause. I don’t give a turnstile a second thought. I can sprint up the stairs at the movies without gasping for breath. Gone forever are the days when I would eat to my heart’s content. There was no such thing as the eyes being bigger than the stomach. I was literally eating enough to sustain a family of four.
A much healthier habit of daily exercise has taken the place of all that eating. I try to start every day with a vigorous walk — in my family room. I usually pop in a DVD and in 90 minutes or so, I register 10,000 steps on the pedometer and make good use of my Blockbuster® card. That builds muscle, which burns fat and keeps me where I want to be.
There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t know how much better I am able to navigate the world I live in. It was a long road, but I made it. You can, too.